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The Entitled Reader

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Although I’m not exactly a devoted reader of John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, a Twitter retweet last week drew my attention to a recent post, in which he announces that readers protesting ebook prices on his “Big Idea” posts will have their comment deleted:

 

Why? Primarily because here at the tail end of 2011, I find the subject boring and I find the people who get huffy about an electronic book not being [insert price you believe for whatever reason an eBook should be] are exhibiting a particularly tiresome sort of entitlement, to wit, that owning an electronic book reader means that you are possibly obliged to announce your opinion on book pricing at every turn. See, the thing is: You’re not. You don’t have to. At this point, I wish you wouldn’t.

But it doesn’t stop there. Scalzi goes on to insist that such complaints are “kind of mean to the author,” and that

. . . going into a comment thread of a Big Idea and making a big show of why you’re not going to buy the book because of a price point that the author very frequently has absolutely no control over kind of makes you a dick. Authors are already neurotic and twitchy about how the book is going to be received; you going in and announcing “I will not buy your book for reasons entirely unrelated to your writing and about which you were given no say” is really cluelessly rude. If you want to complain about the pricing, please do — to someone who actually has the wherewithal to do something about it, namely, the publisher. They are not hard to find and e-mail.

 

Without a doubt, Scalzi has the right to delete comments on his blog, and at least he’s giving people fair warning that he will do so in certain circumstances. That’s not what irked me about the post. What irked me is this belief that readers who protest book prices to the author are “entitled,” a word that in the context of his post suggests that we are somehow overstepping and over-reaching beyond what is our right. That, combined with Scalzi’s belief that readers have easy access to publishers and that not utilizing it is “mean to the author,” struck me as just plain wrong. Numerous supportive comments to his post honestly surprised me, as did a point Scalzi brought up to me in a long Twitter exchange, namely his belief that the big 6 publishers regard readers as their customers – which stands in contradiction to what even the publishers themselves say. And while I certainly understand why authors would get frustrated and even resentful over reader complaints about pricing, I think Scalzi’s argument is, at best, myopic and mistaken in regard to readers, authors, and publishers.

The Nature of the Book

There is an ongoing tension around whether books are the same or different from other consumer goods. Is the book a sacred cultural artifact or a commercial product akin to a vacuum cleaner or a kitchen appliance? The rise of digital books suggests that even within the realm of books there is a hierarchy of cultural value. Eloquent eulogies to the paper book abound, elevating its status and calling into question whether something that’s not printed and bound can even be called a book. Publishers currently treat digital books differently from print books, both in royalty structure and pricing (i.e. no so-called agency pricing model for print books). Scalzi argues that “eBooks are not special snowflakes; they’re just books in electronic form. As someone who prefers to read in eBook form, you are not substantially different from someone who prefers hardcovers, or trade paperbacks, or mass market paperbacks,” but what about books in general?

The Nature of the Reader’s Relationship with the Book

My own view is that books are both a commercial good and a cultural artifact, which means that behavior toward them will be a hybrid of consumption and critical engagement. And one of the biggest aspects of the commercial nature of books is the price. Under the current so-called agency pricing (Charles Petit does a great job explaining why it’s not really an agency model), big 6 publishers set the price of books, but consumers still primarily acquire books via retailers, which have long been considered the customers of publishers. As cultural artifacts, books are creative products, and readers are conditioned to identify them primarily with the author’s name on the cover. In the broad universe of books and readers, what is the likelihood that a reader will identify a book with its publisher?  I know for myself that even now I’m much more likely to know a non-agency book’s publisher than I am one from the big 6. Some of those non-agency books I purchase direct from the publisher (e.g. Harlequin), but most I still buy from a retailer.

The Nature of the Reader’s Relationship with the Author, the Retailer, and the Publisher

When I learned that publishers don’t view readers as their customers, so much made sense to me. My inability – until very recently – for example, to find a contact link on the Penguin publishing site; Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s failure to include readers in his letter on the agency stand-off with Amazon; the seeming hostility to digital demonstrated by big 6 leaders like Simon and Schuster’s Carolyn Reidy, who unselfconsciously explained the practice of “windowing” digital releases, admitting that,

 

“The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback. We believe some people will be disappointed. But with new [electronic] readers coming and sales booming, we need to do this now, before the installed base of e-book reading devices gets to a size where doing it would be impossible.”

 

Hachette CEO David Young added, “We’re doing this to preserve our industry. I can’t sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It’s about the future of the business.” And the big 6 business model is built around the hardcover, something I do not believe reflects the priorities of the reading public as a whole.

I know it’s not personal; I understand that publishers, like all commercial businesses, are profit-driven; I don’t doubt that publishers know consumers are end-users of their products. However, their business model has not included readers as customers. Digital growth is beginning to challenge this tradition, but as the publishers themselves admit, it’s a challenge. Part of the problem is that big 6 publishers have decidedly not made themselves accessible or even recognizable to readers. Frankly, I’d love to know when it became easy to contact publishers directly, because that certainly has not been my experience.

Consumers sometimes vent their complaints about a product directly to the manufacturer; however, as gazillions of Amazon reviews demonstrate, the retailer is the likely first stop for the consumer, because they have a direct customer relationship with the retailer. And as readers, especially readers online, we identify books with their authors, more and more of whom have websites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts. In their own way, authors have become like direct marketers of their literary products, not necessarily selling books directly, although more and more authors are, in fact, publishing their own books and selling them via retailers.

Which brings me (FINALLY!) to my central question: why is it inappropriately entitled behavior for a reader to complain about ebook prices to or in the presence of the author?

If ebooks are not “special snowflakes,” then why wouldn’t we expect readers to act any differently from other types of consumers? Consumers complain to the store; book consumers also complain to the authors. But, Scalzi says, authors can’t control their book prices, so it’s “mean” to complain to them. I’m not going to debate the question of whether authors can or cannot control prices, because for me that’s not the point (although clearly self-publishing indicates that author can create an environment in which they can control the price of their books). Rather, I’ll focus on this: among retailers, authors, and readers, the only party not in contractual privity with the publisher is the party Scalzi insists has the burden of dealing with directly. This just strikes me as fundamentally illogical.

Even if I accept Scalzi’s assertion that big 6 authors can’t control price, as contractual partners with publishers, does that invalidate the reader’s right to protest? Authors make choices in what publisher they contract with, and maybe some authors want to know the deterrents readers face in buying their books (this goes for geographical restrictions, too, for example). As Dan Gillmor, director of ASU’s Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, pointed out in his recent Guardian blog post,

 

Sure, I can afford the higher prices. But the greed of the publishers has inspired me to make different plans. Now I reserve bestsellers at my local library – run by people who love books: imagine that! – and read them whenever they are available. What were impulse purchases of books that sent revenue to publishers are now impulse reservations that do not. If I have to wait a few weeks, no big deal. I should have remembered that all along.

 

How many readers are now forgoing purchase of big 6 books because of so-called agency pricing, even if they can afford the higher prices? Is this something authors want to know? As authors continue to reach out directly to readers to market their books, I don’t think it’s reasonable to view readers who complain to the author about prices as misbehaving. Because as popular as it is to say that the reader rules, if that were truly the case, I’m not sure the big 6 would even exist, let alone have been able to establish so-called agency pricing.

And do I even need to address the question of whether it’s “mean” to complain about prices to the author? The person who has commercially sold his book in the hopes of making money from it? The person whose name is figured most prominently on the book itself?

Why Shouldn’t the Reader Complain to the Author?

I’ll give Scalzi this: he’s right that I don’t “have to” complain about the price of digital books. What I think he’s dead wrong about, though, is that complaining about the price of digital books is a form of illegitimate entitlement.

When I purchase a digital book from big 6 publishers, which I do infrequently if the price is not reduced, I am denied the right of first sale, which is one of the most fundamental copyright principles. More and more, I am also being denied the kind of editorial and formatting quality I associate with a higher book price (even print books have declined in size, paper quality, and editing, which creates another pricing issue, but I’ll leave that aside for now). But to abdicate my own rights under copyright law in purchasing a digital book means that I am ultimately buying a lesser or at least more limited product. And just as I don’t think it’s anywhere near reasonable to pay $15 or $20 to rent a movie, I don’t think it’s reasonable to pay print prices for DRM’d digital books.

So what about publisher costs? The current print model demonstrates clearly that price is not determined purely by the cost of producing an item, so I don’t find that a helpful argument in determining the cost of digital books as compared to print. With the big 6 business model built around the hardcover, the growth of digital books is not a good thing, which means that publishers do not have much incentive to promote their growth unless the model is changed. With debates over whether so-called agency pricing has helped or hurt authors, it’s unlikely that authors will stand united for or against the practice.

All of which makes it more likely than not that if readers protest digital pricing, they will do so to authors. Even if authors feel that is unfair. Which, in some cases it might be. And perhaps it’s not the most effective venue of protest, although I don’t think it requires subtle interpretive tools to read Scalzi as dismissive of readers who protest digital prices period. But how does lodging the protest with the author’s online book marketing presence make the protesting reader a “dick”? How is the reader’s frustration about an ebook price any different from an author’s frustration over, for example, a royalties structure? I know there are authors who forward reader comments to their publisher. Not every author does this, nor should readers expect it. I think we all have to accept that for the most part people act in what they perceive to be their best interest. The question here, I think, is whether pricing is in the interest of the author, as well.

Without a doubt, the primary perceived interests of readers, authors, and publishers are not always in alignment. But when we have direct evidence that digital book pricing is aimed at slowing digital growth, which in turn potentially slows digital sales for authors and deters readers from buying their books, I think price is a shared concern between authors and readers, one which we are all reasonably entitled — and perhaps should be encouraged — to discuss. Except, of course, at Scalzi’s blog.

 

 

 

 

 

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

267 Comments

  1. THE
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 05:02:53

    Coming from an entirely different perspective, I’m sick and tired of Americans whining about book prices when they have it better than anyone. Hell, half of the books you guys complain about aren’t even available for the rest of us to buy, and when they are, we’re paying a hell of a lot more.

    I DO think it’s rude to complain on blogs and reviews a lot of the time. I was reading a Miranda Neville review on here earlier today, and the first comment at the bottom is someone announcing they refuse to buy the book because of “agency pricing”. Call me crazy, but yeah, I think that’s completely unnecessary!

    I’ve never really understood the concept of, “I’m sticking to crappy self-published books to teach those mean publishers a lesson.” Maybe if I was more invested in the publishing industry I’d care more, but what I look for in a book is a good read, and “The Big 6” are far more likely to provide that than most of the Kindle crap you can’t escape on Amazon these days.

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  2. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 05:24:19

    Authors make choices in what publisher they contract with, and maybe some authors want to know the deterrents readers face in buying their books (this goes for geographical restrictions, too, for example).

    I think that’s true, although some authors may feel that they don’t have very much choice. Having read lots of “call stories” here and elsewhere, I get the impression that a lot of authors feel it’s publishers who have the power of choice/refusal over them, rather than the other way around.

    All the same, price and accessibility issues were definitely things I thought about when I was trying to find a publisher for my (academic) book. I don’t know, though, that I can really compare my situation to that of authors of fiction because there are significant differences between academic and non-academic publishing.

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  3. Meri
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 05:30:33

    More than once, I’ve seen authors suggest that once their book is out there, readers should be able to react to it in any way they see fit. To me, that means everything about the book is fair game, be it plotting, characterization, cover art, geo-restrictions or pricing. While I understand that pricing is something that authors can’t control to the same extent as the content of a book, I still feel it is perfectly reasonable for readers to tell authors that they cannot or will not buy their books, and why. If there’s a barrier to readers buying your book, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Maybe you can do something to address the situation. Readers have choices; authors have choices. Why shouldn’t these choices and decisions be discussed directly?

    Unlike the first commenter, I am able to find options that are neither full priced agency books nor “crappy self-published books” (I very much enjoyed Courtney Milan’s decidedly not crappy self-pubbed books). If I really want to read something, I’ll find a way to get the book – legally, and at a price I can live with. But the chances of my giving a new author a shot when their e-books are agency-priced or geo-blocked are slim, and I imagine that’s true for many readers; it’s much easier to take a risk when a book is less expensive. Aren’t Scalzi’s Big Idea posts intended to introduce people to authors they may not have heard of/tried reading before? In that case, I am not surprised the issue comes up often.

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  4. Jess
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 05:41:39

    @Meri:
    I agree with all of this, but especially the sentence about being more likely to take a chance on a new author if the price is less expensive. I love discovering a new author that could even end up on auto-buy one day, but more often than not I read a book I’m disappointed with. A 2.99 disappointment is less irritating than a 9.99 disappointment.

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  5. Patricia
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 05:51:15

    “I will not buy your book for reasons entirely unrelated to your writing and about which you were given no say” is really cluelessly rude.

    But that’s wrong. If his writing was better, I would pay any amount of money go get his next book. Ilona Andrews’ could make me spend 100 bucks for one ebook. If he can’t make his readers do the same, well, it’s a shame, but it ain’t rude to tell him so.

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  6. Shan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:06:14

    Scalzi also has a previous post discussing regionality:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/06/07/why-you-cant-get-my-book-in-insert-country-here/

    In short, authors maximise their income by selling rights by region, and while it’s unfortunate that this means that many readers can’t legally buy their ebooks, that’s just the way it is.

    He does, at least, seem to accept that this might lead to piracy.

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  7. Asia M
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:10:18

    I agree with most of this post as well as Meri’s comment. Of course there are mature, constructive ways to “complain” vs immature and rude ones, and authors shouldn’t be the first/only persons targeted when it comes to the pricing of books. Beyond this, I find it totally fair, even necessary for readers to express their opinions on prices, and how it affects their reading behaviour. I totally agree with Jess on the fact that low prices are an excellent incentive to discover new authors; perhaps I am finally about to begin reading outside of backlists.

    @THE: My experience as a French reader living in France has been the opposite. I couldn’t find American romance novels in bookstores, but online booksellers allowed me to get them all for the same price they were sold in the US, often with even bigger discounts and free shipping (while books in France cannot be discounted; it’s against the law).

    I also haven’t had any experience that self-published books were any crappier as a rule than books published by big corporations. Talk about being rude to authors…

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  8. Lucy V. Morgan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:13:25

    The “entitled” feeling that some readers seem to express is an interesting concept. I’m not in agreement with Scalzi about many points, but as an author, I definitely sympathise on some.

    I started writing by posting serials online, as I think a lot of people do. My work was free and the feedback from readers was in generous supply. In other words, by making my work free on various sites, I gained a sizeable readership–hard to do unless you get a good launch by a decent press. But this readership was a bit of a double-edged sword; the readers were demanding, and would get irate if things weren’t posted in a certain amount of time/something happened they didn’t agree with. Most authors experience negative feedback but when it’s ongoing and more personally directed at you–rather than the writing itself–it can become hard to deal with. You were literally aiming to please a customer base, and the writing felt less organic and more business-like. Most writers will tell you that it’s not what they originally sought to do, that it’s not how a story really grows.

    As I made the transition to traditional publishing, I self-published a novella that had done well online and made it free–I wanted to get it out on the wider web and again, try and foster a readership in a similar fashion. I feel the need to do this because my upcoming e-book will be $5.99–it’s not a lot of money, but for an ebook these days, it’s hardly cheap. It’s a lot of money for a voracious reader to spend on a debut e-author, let’s say that. I’ve come to the conclusion that the ebook market is vastly similar to the online serial market. (So to clarify: this is the market I am addressing, rather than big six–though I’ve learned during my internship that there’s substantial overlap).

    As an author, it’s unpleasant to feel like you should apologise for charging for your work–and yet prices are being pushed down to gain sales, and authors are being encouraged to provide free content, at a brisk pace, for promotion. It’s also unpleasant to hear readers vocally ascribing (an often depressingly low) monetary value to something which may well have taken a year to write (though there’s a symptomatic problem–people pumping out dirge in weeks in order to create a “backlist”); reading is so very subjective and they’re never going to agree. It’s not like putting a quality stamp on a new microwave. Taking spelling, grammar and formatting out of the equation, a book is only as good as the reader thinks it is. So when you hear “I loved it–I’d totally pay at least $1.99!” (which happens), your heart sinks a bit. Some people think it’s a fair price for what is essentially a file–albeit one they loved–and the publishers are listening.

    This isn’t to say that readers shouldn’t have their say on pricing, that publishers should be trying to engineer certain market factors, or that authors should only hear praise. More so that I’d just hate to see publishing go the way of the online serial market, and yet it appears to be doing so–less income for the author, increased output expected. That market became such a way because its readers wanted as much as possible for zero cost, and continue to do so. So when Scalzi says ebook pricing hits a nerve for him, yes, it does for me too–for some similar reasons, for some different reasons. The market is a worrying place right now.

    NB: on reading the responses which appeared while I was writing this, I suspect I’ve read “entitled” a little differently to some. Which is interesting! (It blows if readers in different territories are charged different prices, certainly).

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  9. Bronte
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:14:47

    I don’t complain about US pricing. However I do complain when currently the australian dollar is pretty well much equivalent to the US dollar, but if I want to buy one of Eloisa James novella’s it will cost me 12 AUS dollar while it will cost a US customer 1.99. If I want to buy one of her novels which is 6.99 US I will need to pay 16.99 AUS for the same ebook. How is that fair? How is that not price gouging? Congratulations Eloisa James – I have not bought a book of yours since agency pricing and geographical restrictions came into being (when previously I bought every book faithfully). Its a shame because I used to enjoy your books.

    So maybe I’m an entitled reader, but the business side of me says why would you throw away a sale? I have no objection to paying a fair price for a quality item but 10 dollars difference is taking the piss for the same product delivered exactly the same way (electronically) – in fact its actually cheaper for me to buy a whole bunch of paperbacks at once off amazon and get them shipped to Australia. How crazy is that?

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  10. Keishon
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:32:58

    And do I even need to address the question of whether it’s “mean” to complain about prices to the author? The person who has commercially sold his book in the hopes of making money from it? The person whose name is figured most prominently on the book itself?

    For this reader, I don’t see books as being any different than any other consumer product. There probably still is hostility from authors and readers at the mere mention of someone actually returning a book to a bookstore (how dare they! or it’s rude to do that) when the store itself issues a 30 day refund. Books are kind of different some say. I say you’re wrong. People have always complained about prices and I feel books shouldn’t be exempt from that just because the writer has no control over it. And I hate that some people assume that every reader out there feels entitled to cheaper prices or want free ebooks all the time. No, I just don’t want to be ripped off. There are a lot of variables that go into play when I decide to buy an ebook whether it’s priced at 99 cents or 11.99. I have paid a lot of money for ebooks for authors that deliver. But I won’t pay those same prices for a new writer emerging in the field. But anyway, I’ve been put in check about prices from readers from different countries as they pay more for physical and digital books. There’s no sympathy for Americans for pricing issues.

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  11. Kerry
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:36:57

    People convert to ebooks because of the instant availability, convenience, and portability, not to mention access to thousands of books that will never be available in printed form. At this point, I consider those properties a trade for “can’t give it to someone else,” not “an ebook inherently has less value and so should cost less.”

    Like any complaint you’ve heard a million times, it’s tiresome to hear it again. Of course it’s your right to decide not to buy something based entirely on price, as it’s my right (and Scalzi’s) to think perpetually whining about it in public is the behavior of a spoiled child.

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  12. Meri
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:41:45

    @Shan: I remember that post, and I can’t say it makes me feel very valued as a reader. Many authors manage to handle rights issues without screwing over international readers.

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  13. Nadia Lee
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:53:15

    Sometimes it feels like the Big 6′s main goal is to make buying and reading books as inconvenient and costly as possible, unless you buy print books in America.

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  14. Maria Zannini
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 06:57:09

    Ref: Numerous supportive comments to his post honestly surprised me, …

    Any blog with followers will have its core fans agreeing without a second thought. This blog is no exception. It comes with the territory of a popular blog.

    But Scalzi was right that it is “kind of mean to the author” because they have no control over pricing. That we can’t seem to reach the publishers to complain is not the author’s fault. Even if we did complain, they’re not going to do anything about it. The only one that has been instrumental in influencing Big 6 pricing has been Amazon.

    On the other hand, as a consumer, I have the right to show my support for a cause by buying or NOT buying.

    Scalzi was protecting his guests and I like that. I don’t allow people to be obnoxious and rude on my blog and he’s implementing the same protocols. But he is dead wrong about complaining to the publishers. Hasn’t the Big 6 made it clear enough to us that it’s fruitless? The only way to make them see reason is to stop consuming their products.

    Sadly, the only one who gets hurt in the end is the author.

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  15. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 07:18:14

    I loved the post, because, for a change, it showed the author’s point of view. I don’t read him every day, but pop by from time to time. To be honest, I prefer Chuck Wendig’s “Terrible Minds” but that is very author-centric and I love it.
    The writing scene is tight and getting tighter for authors. It’s harder to get a gig and harder to keep it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of would-be-published writers waiting for a slot, queuing up behind you and some of them maybe better writers than you are.
    So writers are paranoid. Or something.
    Pricing? Yes, it concerns us, but unless they are self published, writers have no input on that. Less than they have on cover art. Nothing. You are told what your book will cost shortly before publication or on publication day. And there you are, fuming or not.
    I was delighted when Ellora’s Cave did a test and then spread out the cut in prices, dropping the higher prices to third party sites. It’s already making a difference in sales. But I had no input on that decision. No author did. It’s a corporate decision.
    And telling an author not to go with a publisher because they use agency prices? Really? Maybe the authors at the very top might be able to mention it and at least get listened to. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time. If you’re just complaining because it irks you, then go ahead, it’s better to get these things out, but if you want to get things done, blogs and tweets are probably the last places to do it.
    If you feel prices are too high, then engage with the people who can do something about it. All an author can do is contact her editor, who can contact the marketing department, who will probably ignore it.

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  16. joanne
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 07:21:12

    @Patricia:

    But that’s wrong. If his writing was better, I would pay any amount of money go get his next book. Ilona Andrews’ could make me spend 100 bucks for one ebook. If he can’t make his readers do the same, well, it’s a shame, but it ain’t rude to tell him so.

    There you go, absolutely. I’d scratch Ilona Andrews and insert about five other author names for my list but it’s the exact same thought.

    I’m bored to tears by people telling me that as a reader I’m acting like I’m entititled and that I should hang my head in shame. My money, my choices. Yes, I’m entitled.

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  17. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 07:23:59

    @Maria Zannini I disagree that authors have no control over pricing. Authors do control the pricing of their books to the extent that they choose with whom they will be published. Scalzi argues (as have I) that authors who sell their books do so with maximizing their profit in mind. It’s a business decision. This preferences some readers over others. In the case of the big 6, this preferences print readers over digital readers and it almost always preferences North American readers over every other region.

    If an author chooses to go with a small digital press, they preference digital readers over print readers but also make their books more widely available geographically speaking and often at a lower cost to the reader.

    The fact that this is a business decision of the author actually fits in with Scalzi’s argument that a book is not a special snowflake. But because it is not a special snowflake, the consumer complaints return directly to the author who is the one who began with the creative control over the product. Maybe if enough non North American readers complain to authors on a daily basis about lack of availability, the next book that author sells to a publisher will be to one that will ensure that book is not geographically restricted. Or if enough readers complain about price, the author will choose to sell to a publisher who will price the book more reasonably, who does not engage in restrictive pricing practices. Or perhaps the author will self publish and retain those rights. By receiving complaints, by understanding the customer, the author is in a better decision to make those profit maximizing decisions. Scalzi, by removing those comments, is actually hurting himself and his guests because they will be lacking important input in determining the price of the product. It’s actually “meaner” to use Scalzi’s vernacular because Scalzi is treating himself and his guests like impotent children who cannot emotionally or intellectually process information that might be viewed as negative.

    The idea that the author is helpless and has no control is one that is often touted but is incorrect.

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  18. Ros
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 07:53:32

    @Meri: Quite. And any publisher with half a brain will surely want to be acquiring global digital publishing rights these days. Why alienate most of your potential buyers by telling them they aren’t allowed to buy the book because of where they live?

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  19. Tae
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:23:37

    Personally, I find complaining to the author about their prices ridiculous, if they’re not self-pubbed. Either I buy it or I don’t. The author usually has little to say about the pricing and what good does it to do complain to them? I’m someone who doesn’t buy hardcover, uses the library frequently – especially since I can borrow kindle books now and buys used most of the time. Price matters, but I do find it rude to tell the author that their books are too expensive to buy.

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  20. Las
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:26:58

    “Entitled” is absolutely not the word I’d use but I do agree with this part:

    . . . going into a comment thread of a Big Idea and making a big show of why you’re not going to buy the book because of a price point that the author very frequently has absolutely no control over kind of makes you a dick

    I think complaining to an author is fine…yeah, they often don’t control prices but they’re the ones that readers have a “relationship” with. Unless the publisher stamps their mark all over a book like Harlequin does I never know who they are, so if I were the type to complain about prices (I’m not because a)I’m lazy and b)I’m an eternal pessimist) I wouldn’t go to them. But to complain in the comments of an author’s post about his new book is obnoxious.

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  21. Jaclyn
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:37:34

    My expectations increase as the price of a book goes up. This holds true with print and digital formats. The more I pay, the more I expect: better writing, better story, better editing, better design & presentation: better overall product. I expect more for $7.99, $9.99, $12.99, etc.

    Books and book publishing are at an epic moment of transformation which invites experimentation with many parts of the process, including the price. Even if authors don’t have the power to change their book’s price, at this time of experimentation any reader feedback is valuable in shaping the path forward, if that feedback reaches the people who are making the decisions.

    An author response along the lines of “I don’t set the price for my books but I’ll share your feedback with my publisher.” would be good customer service to their reader. If the feedback really does get pushed to their publisher, a savvy publisher will synthesize it into the information they are using to transform their business.

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  22. Julieta Lionetti
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:39:45

    @Laura Vivanco: As a former publisher I can tell you that authors don’t always make the choice of publisher and that rather the contrary is true. Would anybody suggest to an author to remain unpublished simply because his would be publisher backs the “agency” model? I’m puzzled.

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  23. Avery Flynn
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:43:55

    @Jane: I agree with you to an extent, however, your comment assumes that there is a line of publishers all vying for every author’s books in a bidding war for the right to publish. This may be true in some cases, but I imagine those are the significant minority.

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  24. Jill
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:51:18

    Personally, I’m glad that Scalzi instituted his policy b/c as a reader to his blog, I stopped reading the comments to the Big Idea posts b/c it was always people complaining about pricing or something not being available in e-book form. There’s plenty of other forums where that is the appropriate discussion.

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  25. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:53:55

    @Avery Flynn No, it doesn’t. It assumes that authors have the right and ability to control when and where and how their book is published which is absolutely true. There is always a choice. Economically, some choices are valued less (and rightly so). There are some books that are so poorly written or so marginal in interest, that the author’s best business decision comes only in the form of one publisher. Increasingly, however, authors are faced with a multitude of business decisions. Do I sell my backlist to Open Road that prices the books at $7.99 or Samhain that prices the books at $5.99 and under? What do I get from each venue in terms of geographic openness, royalties, marketing support, editing?

    Do I self publish my book and thus reduce the time available to write or do I sell my book to a digital first publisher or attempt a print publisher? One of the business decisions authors may have to make is whether their product is actually ready for sale. Evaluating the quality of the product is as much a business decision as where to publish and when to publish and at what price.

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  26. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:55:21

    Would anybody suggest to an author to remain unpublished simply because his would be publisher backs the “agency” model? I’m puzzled.

    I certainly didn’t suggest that. The choice authors face isn’t a stark one between (a) remaining unpublished or (b) accepting a contract with a publisher favouring the agency model. [Edited to add: Jane has just outlined a wider range of options in her comment above.]

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  27. Nonny
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:56:45

    Hm. I read Scalzi’s post not as belittling the complaints about price in general, but saying that Big Ideas posts weren’t the time/place for them. And I can’t entirely disagree there, as most of the Big Idea posts are positive/celebratory in nature as well as promotional. I thought he was saying that people hijacking celebratory posts to say they wouldn’t be buying the books because of price was entitled, not that readers determining price points they are willing to pay in general was entitled. However, I didn’t read the follow-up conversations over Twitter, so I could be mistaken!

    In general, with my reader hat on :) I absolutely think that readers should choose where they’re comfortable paying for things. Because, damn, having gotten a Nook somewhat recently myself, there is stuff I won’t pay for. The arthritis in my hands is bad enough holding a physical book is difficult (especially now having gotten used to the Nook), and I wanted to replace my copies of a couple books with e-versions, and they’re $13? WTF? Or some publishers, that don’t even have e-book versions. (Solaris seems to be really bad about that. I’m not sure which publisher is their parent company off-hand.)

    Author hat on, there’s not a whole lot I can do about pricing except argue with my publishers and use reader feedback to decide where I go from there. For NY pubbed authors, I imagine the fact that they usually sign multi-book contracts makes it more difficult, especially if they don’t have a high output in which to put out other books in between their primary contract.

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  28. theo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 08:56:50

    I’m not sure which side of the fence I stand on here. I have absolutely no problem paying $5.99 to $7.99 for an eBook (which is contrary to my original thought of how they should be cheaper, but that’s another story) IF the paperback is priced the same. However, I cannot justify paying $10+ for an eBook when I can buy the paperback for less.

    Part of this reason is because, though I recently sold my Nook Color and got a Nook Tablet, I’m not a dedicated eBook reader. I had the NC and now the NT more for the convenience when I travel that I don’t have to cart my laptop with me. And yes, it’s easier to carry several books on the tablet than it is in my laptop carrier. However, I’m still too tactile to make the switch to a reader exclusively and if I can get the book in paperback, that’s my first choice.

    So, though I wouldn’t pay $10+ for an eBook, I’m not about to go to an author’s site and start posting that. I’m sure the author knows there are people out there who won’t. Why should I make a public confession of it as a personal post to the author? Better to tell the publisher that if it means that much and you can find the “contact us” button on the publisher site.

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  29. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:00:55

    @Julieta Lionetti No one is suggesting that an author should remain unpublished but rather that when the author chooses to publish with a publisher that has restrictive (and possibly illegal) pricing policies the author is appropriately the entity to which a reader can direct complaints. It’s a rational and appropriate response to the author’s decision.

    In other words, an author is free to make any sorts of business decisions and choosing to go with one of the Big 6 may be the very best business decision for that author. Even so, the best business decision is not without repercussions and the consumer (reader) is merely voicing her position on the author’s decision. This is valuable consumer feedback that the author can use in making future business decisions. Maybe those consumer complaints have no impact because it is simply one data point amongst many others that the author must weigh in evaluating the best possible business decision for herself.

    Authors and readers are at odds with each other from an economic standpoint. Authors want to sell the most product for the most amount of money and readers want to get the most product for the least amount of money.

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  30. Lucy V. Morgan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:01:49

    Authors usually have very little say in the publishing process and few get offers from multiple publishers, at least to begin with. This is why agents are so useful (unless of course you have the business skills/pluck/sheer luck to make money out of self-publishing, and you’re happy with what that offers/entails).

    Authors who publish with multiple houses do tend, these days, to be e-authors (or majority e-authors), and most ebook houses have similar pricing models anyway.

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  31. Mel
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:02:46

    How about the entitled writer who doesn’t have to behave like an adult? I work at a college and get bitched at all the time about tuition costs, book costs, and even the price of candy in the vending machine. All these things are decided by people so far up the ladder from me I’ve never actually seen them in person. But I am the public face of the business. I don’t get to scream back at the student that they should happily volunteer to pay double because I haven’t had a raise in five years. I get to put on my concerned face, make poor baby responses in all the appropriate places, and when they wind down tell them I’m sorry I can’t actually help but I will forward their complaints to the appropriate department. I don’t think I’m out of line to expect a similar amount of self control from authors who are the public face of publishing.

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  32. Junne
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:07:28

    I’m a reader but frankly, I don’t think authors do this for free. So, any publisher maximizing their profits would be the smartest to choose. If there’s like only 2 readers in South Africa who absolutely want to read their book, well that’s too bad for them because it would be dumb to buy international rights to gain a small handful of readers. Jane’s comment feels like authors should choose what’s best for readers before themselves.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

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  33. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:08:55

    @Junne That’s not what I said. I’ve repeatedly said that the author’s decision may be the one that is the best business decision:

    In other words, an author is free to make any sorts of business decisions and choosing to go with one of the Big 6 may be the very best business decision for that author. Even so, the best business decision is not without repercussions and the consumer (reader) is merely voicing her position on the author’s decision.

    and

    Scalzi argues (as have I) that authors who sell their books do so with maximizing their profit in mind. It’s a business decision. This preferences some readers over others. In the case of the big 6, this preferences print readers over digital readers and it almost always preferences North American readers over every other region.

    If an author chooses to go with a small digital press, they preference digital readers over print readers but also make their books more widely available geographically speaking and often at a lower cost to the reader.

    and 

    Economically, some choices are valued less (and rightly so).

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  34. Junne
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:13:38

    OK, sorry sometimes I need a little time processing because english isn’t my first language. Now I see what you’re getting to. My bad for misinterpreting your message.

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  35. farmwifetwo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:17:10

    I just simply roll my eyes at the publishers and think “if I want it, I’ll buy it” but don’t expect me not to look for it elsewhere at a cost I’m willing to pay for it. Like Keishon IMO books are consumable goods… not gold.

    I have difficulty reading author blogs where they complain about what they get paid. Why I should by their book and generally how they’re owed. See, IMO it’s a job. Maybe one you are good at. Maybe one you enjoy. Maybe a lifestyle you like to have. No issues with all of that… I live on a farm and it’s tight too and we’re price TAKERS not price MAKERS. But you don’t hear my griping about being taken to the cleaners by the consumer and the grocery store. It’s a choice.

    What finally got me was going to a play and being told at the end of it they expected you to give them money on your way out… at STRATFORD no less where they should have known better.

    We make choices. We make choices based on income and lifestyle dreams. We make choices based on what we are willing to pay for an item from books to bread. I am entitled to that choice as a consumer of all products. You are entitled as well. Part of that entitlement is voicing an opinion… verbally, in print, with my pocketbook.

    Books are a consumable item. Books are a commodity. Books are a luxury. I’ll find what I want at the price I’m willing to pay and if the author nor the publisher is able or willing to supply that good at that price… I’ll find someone who will. To be blunt I cannot afford my 300 books a year habit. They have to come used or library or new and cheap.

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  36. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:19:43

    I think consumers have the right to voice their issues concerning any product they consume.

    However, if a webmaster chooses to limit price complaints on a website, I see no problem with that either.

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  37. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:28:40

    @farmwifetwo I think Scalzi’s problem is that he argues that it is not rational or logical for a reader to complain to a reader but provides both a rational and emotional justification that are internally inconsistent.

    First, like Las says, it’s kind of an obnoxious move to post complaints in a celebratory post and if Scalzi wanted to argue that it was mean to complain about prices in this particular place, that would have been consistent. But Scalzi argues that it is not only mean (emotional) but also that books are not snowflakes (rational). This is illogical and internally inconsistent.

    The emotional argument is that authors are not business people and that in the particular space Scalzi created, they should not be exposed to complaints. It’s mean, Scalzi states. He’s making an emotional appeal here. It may be true that it is “mean” or as Las said, an “obnoxious” move. However, the emotional rebuttal is that readers feel more connected to authors than any other entity involved in the publishing process. Authors and publishers foster this connection. Emotionally, the reader is moved to direct complaints to the author. From an emotional standpoint, it is understandable that the reader complains about everything including the quality of the paper to the author.

    But Scalzi then argues the rational. He argues that readers should not complain to authors because authors aren’t in control of the pricing. Once the product (the non special snowflake book) has left the author’s hands, pricing is not in their control but prior to the sale of distribution rights to a publisher, the author does have control. Thus it is logical and rational for a reader to complain to an author.

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  38. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:34:36

    The part I’m getting hung up on is why it’s a dick move to tell an author something that is completely true, even if the author can’t change it directly.

    I know several authors who have gone to publishers and said, “$7.99 is too high. Can we please lower the cost of my ebook?” That has actually worked for some authors, and gotten them included in some price promotions. For others, it hasn’t. But even if the decision is corporate, authors can try.

    More importantly, while you might not be able to change the price for that one book, an author’s desire to stick their head in the sand is not a good enough reason to avoid learning from readers about the shape of the digital demand curve–which is extraordinarily steep.

    Yes, it sucks that people aren’t buying your book because it’s priced too high. Yes, it might make your head hurt. But as a business person, why would you not want to know that about your product?

    Especially for the Big Idea authors that Scalzi hosts–who are generally not well-known quantities–if an ebook is priced at $14.99, it’s going to sell a lot fewer copies than if it’s priced at $4.99. I don’t understand why it’s mean to tell authors this. Like they shouldn’t know? Like they should somehow be shielded from the harsh realities of life, until they get their royalty statements in a year?

    It’s far more cruel to shelter authors from the unpleasant reality that their publishers may be crippling their e-book sales.

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  39. Meoskop
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:43:43

    I am not a Scalzi fan. He reveals longstanding industry contempt for the reader with this column, which doesn’t surprise me. First readers were told prices and gone up because of paper costs. Now we are told prices must rise because of digital costs or piracy. First we were told buying books at department stores would kill publishing, Then we were told buying books online would kill publishing. Now we are told that buying digital books will kill publishing. If anyone needs to quit ‘whining’ it is publishers. Authors make a product. Telling the. Why you will not buy that product isn’t entitled whining, it is consumer feedback. Other industries value and pay for consumer feedback. If I tell Nintendo a product is overpriced they do not accuse me of being rude to the developers, they send me gifts to thank me for being a loyal customer who cares enough to give feedback.

    Publishing can bite me. So can Scalzi. My book dollar spent has dramatically dropped. It is entitled to explain to them why. Entitlement would be going over to piracy and never saying a word about pricing again.

    Readers in other countries complaining about my opinion of prices in my own coutry can join publishing and Scalzi. You have books in your countries I would like to read but cannot because of region controls. Same with dvd’s. I don’t tell other countries they canot complain about their pricing because their media is being restricted to me. I don’t live in their country, I cannot speak to their experience. If they were able to buy digital books openly as I have advocated for, their region restrictions and pricing issues would fall away.

    I am tired of being told that my opinion is rude, or entitled or anything other than consumer feedback. You know what kills publishing? When readers stop buying books. Publishing pushed me from more than $100 a month on books to about $25. One of us may be whiny and entitled, but it isn’t me.

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  40. lisabookworm
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 09:59:16

    For me, the Agency pricing has alienated me as a reader. I used to buy books (print and digital) based on the plot, author, writing style, and admittedly, an intriguing cover. Now, before I purchase a book that sounds good to me, I look to see who the publisher is. If I’m at amazon, I look to see who’s selling the book (amazon or publisher), and if I’m in a bookstore, I look at the copyright info. That information decides for me whether I’m going to purchase the book or borrow it from my library.

    To me, this means I’m losing the personal connections I have with authors. My auto-buy authors have quickly dwindled to the point where not only am I not buying their books…. I’m forgetting about them.

    While I think that readers shouldn’t be nasty or rude to authors who have Agency publishers, I do believe that readers should make authors aware of the sales they are losing.

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  41. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:03:14

    @Jane:

    Either a book is worth its purchase price, or it isn’t. This is an entirely subjective judgment based upon consumer opinion.

    I’ve dropped $14 on ebooks before, usually on historical bio authors I love, such as Fraser or Massie. I admit those purchases are exceptional, but those authors are also exceptional (IMHO) and I enjoy their work and I enjoy rewarding them for their work.

    However, these purchases are “the exception which proves the rule” for me. I would not pay these same prices for many other books. Even books and authors I truly love. I’m not paying $10+ for the last 4 Heyer ebooks I don’t have. I love Heyer, I’m fascinated with her storytelling, but I don’t think her books are worth $10+. I already own print copies of her books and I bought all the $1.99 ebooks sold for Heyer’s birthday. I feel I’ve enriched Heyer’s estate and the publishing industry enough.

    Am I sour my Heyer e-library is short 4 books? Not really. If it mattered that much to me, I’d buy the books and be satisfied.

    I’m not going to call/contact Heyer’s estate and complain about the prices. That requires time and effort from me I’m unwilling to spend on the issue. If Heyer’s estate and the publishing industry believe they can sell the books for these prices, let them. I am content to wait until the novels are available at a price I’m willing to pay.

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  42. Meri
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:05:52

    @Courtney Milan: well said, and I’m glad to see an author point all this out.

    Of course Scalzi can decide what sort of comments he wants on his blog, but pointing out that a book’s price will likely lose the author sales is neither entitlement nor a dick move. As a reader, I am far more likely to buy books that are accessible and affordable (affordable does not mean “free”). An author who thinks that their snowflake is special enough that those two things will be a not be a concern for readers is probably in for an unpleasant surprise, something that likely applies to the lesser known Big Idea authors.

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  43. Suzy
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:09:34

    Sometimes it is a little weird how random items we read connect in our heads… or at least in my head.

    Just before I read this post, I had been reading the NYTimes and the business blog post about the Years Best Reads for the Small Business Owner. (first of all, I consider authors to BE small business owners, they just contract with others for the publishing side of it) link: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/this-year-in-small-business-the-best-reads/

    One of the “reads” was about charging a price for your product, a fair price for a good product… never give away something for free! The entire article/blog/post is worth reading. link: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110301/making-money-small-business-advice-from-jason-fried.html

    Now back to the post here: While I ‘understand’ Scalzi’s point in concept (remove posts about ebook pricing), I don’t agree with how it did it…. whining/whinging irritates me and I tend to walk away from people who do it.. don’t waste my time complaining… if you don’t like something, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!! State your case, make your point and then move on. If someone else is complaining about something you have control over, offer a simple solution or explanation. If they want to continue complaining without accepting your solution or offering a counter offer, that’s fine. If they don’t accept your solution or counter your offer, don’t let them waste your time. You’ve given them a solution to accept or reject, give them a deadline if you wish, but move on and move away from their arguments. If they continue to whine or complain elsewhere & you feel the need to offer your side, let them know of your solution or offer, that it is fair to you & the whiner. If it continues, repeat your offer as needed. Don’t elaborate. If necessary, walk away.

    What this boils down to is that writing is our passion, but it is also a way to make a living. There are costs associated with writing, even if it is getting a sitter for our children or buying a new computer or research materials. Our time is worth money. We work to write “things” for our enjoyment and the enjoyment of others. If others wish to enjoy our work, then we deserve payment. If they don’t pay, then they don’t deserve to share in the enjoyment.

    People value things that are exchanged for money more than things that they get for free.

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  44. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:16:08

    @Meoskop:

    I am tired of being told that my opinion is rude, or entitled or anything other than consumer feedback.

    Consumer feedback is generally directed to a specific department or entity intended to accept the feedback and make a second effort to satisfy the customer.

    Publishing doesn’t appear to offer a “customer service department” and in consequence, readers appear to be running amuck, adopting various strategies to communicate their grievances. The reader/customer remains frustrated and dissatisfied because the industry is officially ignoring them.

    That doesn’t mean published authors or their blogs should be deemed a viable substitute for a customer service department.

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  45. anon
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:29:01

    This is one of those things that isn’t even up for discussion with most avid digital readers. If it’s priced too high, we pass. Or some find more “creative” ways to get books. I have never done this. I’ve always passed when an e-book is too expensive. I wouldn’t know how to do it. But I’m in the minority.

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  46. Beverley Kendall
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:34:15

    I just read a reviewer complaining that the FREE book she downloaded by a bestselling author was in fact a novella. For this, the book received a 1 star review because, as she stated, the size of the file was misleading and she thought she was getting a FREE full-length front list book by this bestselling author.

    I’m sorry, if that doesn’t reek of entitlement, nothing does.

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  47. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:42:27

    @Beverley Kendall:

    I’m guilty of a similar offense. I once downloaded what I thought was a free download of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” It turned out it was only a download of the first chapter. This download was offered in the “free ebooks” section of the Barnes & Noble website. It did not specify it was a sample chapter.

    I rated the book 1 star, explained the situation, and offered to review the book in full and rate it fairly once I received the free book. Now the download specifies it is a sample chapter only.

    My rating had nothing to do with the book’s quality, it related to the book not being what was advertised. Don’t offer me a free book and then provide a sample chapter. That wastes my time and insults my intelligence. If I authored this novel, I’d be outraged to see my book abused this way.

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  48. theo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:48:24

    @Author on Vacation

    But that was B&N’s decision and their error in not listing it as the first chapter only and the book or chapter itself shouldn’t suffer a bad rating because of a decision that has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the storyline. That complaint should have been taken to B&N. It would have been better to not rate it at all. What you’ve done ultimately is damage the author unfairly for a decision they probably had no part in.

    And that’s where for me, the whole review system is questionable. I’ve seen one star reviews because the paper didn’t ‘feel good.’ Really? They say the book was really good, but the paper it was printed on sucked. So that is the author’s fault?

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  49. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:52:58

    @Author on Vacation: That doesn’t mean published authors or their blogs should be deemed a viable substitute for a customer service department.

    I think a pretty strong argument could be made that authors ARE the customer service department for their own book.

    1. Authors create the original product, a manuscript of a book.
    2. Authors, at that point, have fully copyright control over their work.
    3. Authors then contract with a publisher, selling some of those rights to the publisher, in return for a process undertaken to package and distribute their work and income from sales of that product (aka royalties).

    When a reader praises an author for the look of the novel, for the cover art or or any other aspect, does the author automatically give credit to the publisher for their work? Does the publisher get accolades and awards and reviews for the work?

    Separating the creative content from the packaging suggests that the packaging is a wholly separate thing, which belies the fact that the author has chosen of her own free will to sell rights to package her product. What choice or participation did readers have in that transaction? We are the only party who is NOT in contractual privity with the publisher. Why wouldn’t the buck stop with the author?

    @Meoskop: When I remembered that Scalzi was a Macmillan author who came out early in favor of so-called agency pricing, a lot made sense.

    @Nonny: Just re-read the first part of that Scalzi quote I posted. He doesn’t say that he finds readers who comment in the Big Idea posts entitled, he says he finds readers who complain about ebook pricing entitled. No qualifier there at all.

    In terms of the Twitter discussion, it was funny, because when I read the post I comment in my Twitter feed without @replying Scalzi. And yet, within minutes he commented to me about my reaction. Then he told me very early on that he didn’t care what I thought, even though he kept arguing with me for almost two hours. He also said he was just trying to educate readers, to which I replied that calling them names wasn’t really conducive to a teaching moment. When I asked him why, if an ebook wasn’t a “special snowflake,” he was taking so personally a consumer complaint and why he expected consumers of books to act any differently than consumers of any other product. He indicated that the publisher’s name is on the book, too and that he was entitled to call out readers on his blog. Which still didn’t answer my question, but, as he says, ‘whatever.’ At one point, when I reminded him that he didn’t care what I thought, he indicated that he ‘lived in the vain hope that I would learn’ or something to that effect. It was all pretty amusing, actually, because for someone who didn’t care what I thought, he was certainly working hard enough to make me believe I was wrong. ;D

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  50. Amber
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:57:37

    As someone who values beyond measure the ability to loan, sell, give away books, the fact that ebooks do not have First Sale rights is a huge deal. Convenience and accessibility do not come close to making up for it. I’d argue that without those rights, ebooks lose some of their cultural value and become even more of a “product.”

    If I’m essentially leasing a book, price is going to be a big factor in my decision.

    As for being mean to the authors to complain about price, it’s only mean to those authors who don’t care about barriers to readers. There are authors who want to know when readers can’t find their books, when geo restrictions are a problem, when there are horrific formatting errors, and when a format is too expensive and readers are declining to purchase and using the library instead.

    And there are those who just don’t care.

    If I were an author, I’d want to know when someone who wants to buy my book cannot do so for whatever reason. Even if there isn’t anything I could do at present, it could be useful when discussing contracts and publishers in the future.

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  51. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:58:02

    @theo:

    I expect readers utilizing reviews as a shopping guide to exhibit sound judgment and critical thinking skills. I expect them to — GASP! — read the reviews and make a judgment call as to whether or not that review is relevant to their shopping decision.

    If readers just glance at the rating, surely that reflects more poorly upon the reader/customer than on anyone else. I only expect that kind of behavior from people who accuse Bram Stoker of ripping of Stephanie Meyer when he wrote “Dracula.”

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  52. Amy111
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 10:58:39

    Complaining to an author about pricing is like standing at the counter in Macy’s and complaining to the cashier that the merchandise you’re holding is too expensive and you’re not going to buy it. What would you think of someone who did that, if you were standing behind them in line? I’d be whispering to my friend, “What a dick!” That cashier has about the same control over Macy’s pricing as an author has over the pricing of their book. (Maybe that cashier deserves your scold, because after all, they could have got a job cashiering at Kmart where prices are more reasonable.)

    Readers have every right to complain to authors about pricing, but it’s pointless. Perhaps readers don’t understand that it’s not really that easy for authors to shop their book around to publishers and dangle their own requirements over the publishers’ heads. The publishers will be like, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And once an author begins with a certain publisher, there are clauses in their contracts designed to prevent them from hopping from house to house. Honestly, many authors feel threatened at the thought of leaving one house for another because it’s burning bridges in a sense. Publishers have become very proprietary of authors and there is a definite tension authors face if they “house hop.” Publishers still hold most of the author’s cards, and authors are aware of that. Sometimes shopping around for the readers’ best interests just isn’t a realistic option for an author.

    Authors can affect pricing by completely leaving traditional publishers in order to self publish, but then readers will complain about the loss of quality and accessibility. Authors really can’t win here, so expecting them to assume the responsibility for the pricing problem is unfair.

    Readers need to communicate with the publishers by not buying. That is the ONLY complaint publishers will respond to. Letters, angry emails, pleading emails from authors and readers will all just be deleted, but a sagging bottom line can’t be deleted away or ignored.

    Reader boycott will hurt authors in the short run, but that will be the fastest way to force publishers to change their traditional way of doing things.

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  53. theo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:05:15

    @Author on Vacation

    Sorry, but I disagree. If I only have XX amount of money to spend, I’m going to look over everything, price, description, reviews of the five star book before I’m going to look at the three star book. I don’t care if the paper is smooth or rough. I want to know about the author’s voice, the overall quality of the story, plot, action, what have you. People complain and give bad reviews based on the tactile quality of a book just as they do about the price of an eBook, neither of which, in most cases, the author can completely control unless they’re self-publishing.

    So review the story. Not the paper it’s printed on. Or the fact that the seller misled you with their advertisement by giving a one star review to what has the possibility to be a five star book.

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  54. Nonny
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:08:14

    @Robin/Janet:

    “There’s another reason I’m going to be deleting eBook price kvetching from Big Idea posts, which is that, simply put, going into a comment thread of a Big Idea and making a big show of why you’re not going to buy the book because of a price point that the author very frequently has absolutely no control over kind of makes you a dick.”

    I went back and looked at the entire post; that’s why I thought he was specifically talking about the Big Idea posts. There was a specific comment in the earlier paragraphs (about readers complaining “at every turn”) that also made me think that’s what he was referencing, but what you’re saying about the Twitter conversation makes it pretty obvious that he holds this opinion in general.

    Which, I really don’t agree with at all, for reasons I explained above. I get very annoyed with authors who think that e-book readers in general are “special snowflakes”, because frankly, at this point all of my book purchases are digital, too. And there are very serious issues with the e-book pricing model (though I think any author who’s at all paying attention to industry news on the internet should be aware of that).

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  55. Magdalen
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:10:40

    The market forces are pretty clear: readers want better books at lower prices. Expressing those positions to an author is perfectly acceptable.

    But there is a question of manners. I would consider it rude to walk up to a state employee and announce to that person, “My state taxes are too high and I don’t consider the service that you provide to be worth the money I’m paying.” Effectively, that speaker would be saying, “I don’t want to pay as much in state taxes,” which is fine, but by linking it with the presumed or perceived value of the employee’s salary, it makes it personal.

    [I asked my ex-husband, an intellectual property attorney, what he'd do if clients complained about his fees. Henry said all he could do is pass the word up the food chain. As an employee and not a partner, he has no say over what the firm charges for his time. But Henry acknowledged that there would be a question imbedded in the complaint: were the clients upset about the bill or upset about the quality or amount of work they were paying for? Those last two considerations are within Henry's control, so it would be useful to know what, precisely, the clients were upset about.]

    I’d prefer it if readers figure out what they’re annoyed about. Is it the cost of the book, the quality of the book, or the value (quality divided by cost) of the book?

    Even in the case of the self-published author, it’s useful to know if the reader didn’t like the book, or liked the book but felt it wasn’t good enough to warrant the higher cost, or liked the book but simply felt that $X is too much to pay for even the best e-book. In the last case, complaining to the author could turn out to be a compliment in disguise.

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  56. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:10:58

    @Suzy:

    I am unabashedly approaching writing as an income maximizer: my goal is to make as much money on my writing as I can. This is a long-term goal, and so not everything I do is designed to make as much money as possible in the instant. But I think you’ve inverted the value/payment issue.

    One of the “reads” was about charging a price for your product, a fair price for a good product… never give away something for free!

    Did you read the article? Those words, or words to those effect, never appear in that article. He didn’t say, “Never give away something for free.” In fact, the model he was talking about in that particular section was this: “People could file 25 CDs for free; after that, it would cost $20 to unlock Audiofile and remove the limit.” The author explicitly gave the software away for free, and then charged for upgrades after people were hooked.

    He does say to put a price on things–but not because people value things more if they pay money for it. The two reasons he gives are:

    1. If people value it, they will not mind paying money for it (which is the inverse of what you say); and 2. If you charge for it, you’ll do your best to make it as good as you can.

    If others wish to enjoy our work, then we deserve payment. If they don’t pay, then they don’t deserve to share in the enjoyment.

    That’s not the way book buying works. You pay for books before you read them and know if you’ll derive any enjoyment from them whatsoever. You borrow books from friends, and still really like reading them.

    I think you have it backwards: I hope that people will enjoy my books enough to want to pay for them. I hope that people will enjoy my books enough that they will tell their friends to read them–perhaps even sharing the copy they purchased, without paying me any additional money.

    Neil Gaiman once asked his audience how many of them had paid money for the first work of his that they read. It was a staggeringly small number. Almost everyone else had it shoved in front of them–for free–by others, saying, “You must read this!”

    Which, come to think of it, is how I found him myself.

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  57. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:11:37

    @Laura Vivanco: I would suggest that we have to look at “not much choice” in the context of ‘does anyone have an inherent right to publication?’ Contracting is one of our fundamental rights in the US (Lochner v New York, 1905), so the mere act of seeking publication is the purest exercise of liberty (this is one of the reasons that the ‘slave’ mentality employed by certain self-appointed self-publishing gurus infuriates me).

    Now within the sphere of publishers, choice may be limited, but it certainly isn’t as limited as it used to be. Well-respected digital publishers, viable self-publishing options, small print presses, etc. are all legitimate parts of the publishing landscape now. Which isn’t to say that a big 6 publishing contract doesn’t have a certain cache. But, as Jane and Courtney Milan pointed out, selling your rights to a big 6 pub is a business decision that has different implications and repercussions for readers, some of which may result in passing on a book.

    And still the author might view that big 6 publishing contract as the best business decision for her. Because I expect authors to act in their own self-interest. But I also expect readers to act in their own self-interest, and in this case, I think those interests overlap. What I don’t understand is why it would be “mean” or dickish to let the author know that the reader is priced out of her product (and I’m not really arguing with you here, just playing out the general argument I started above). As Courtney Milan said, some authors have gone to their publishers and had the price of their digital book reduced. Which further erodes Scalzi’s insistence that authors have no control over pricing. As for authors who contracted before agency pricing came into effect, perhaps they will, for their next go-around, make a different choice with their rights. And if not, then at least we can assume they’ve made their decision in an informed way.

    @THE: I don’t think it’s fair to compare across national contexts like that. My perception of unfair pricing in the US doesn’t invalidate the unfair pricing anywhere else. It’s all a problem, and to some degree part of the same large problem, and while I totally agree with you that non-US readers have additional unfair burdens, that doesn’t make US pricing objectively fair or reasonable. For example, US gas prices are much lower than in other parts of the world, but we still know the oil companies are screwing with us when they jack up prices and then rake in record profits.

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  58. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:19:39

    @Amy111: Complaining to an author about pricing is like standing at the counter in Macy’s and complaining to the cashier that the merchandise you’re holding is too expensive and you’re not going to buy it.

    It’s nothing like that.

    That would only work if the cashiers had a limited-time monopoly in the items that were sold by Macy’s, and chose whether Macy’s could sell it or not in the first place. A cashier literally is an interchangeable cog in the stream of commerce. An author writes the book and owns the copyright. The publisher would not have the right to produce the book without the author’s permission.

    It is more like writing a letter to one of the brands that Macy’s carries, saying, “Macy’s charges too much for your sweater. Even though I enjoy your sweaters, I find myself buying cheaper-quality ones from Target because Macy’s charges too much.”

    The brand then has the choice–do they continue to sell to Macy’s, knowing there will be a massive markup, but also believing it will be worth the prestige value? Or do they find some other retail partner, so as to increase sales?

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  59. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:20:24

    @Amy111: Complaining to an author about pricing is like standing at the counter in Macy’s and complaining to the cashier that the merchandise you’re holding is too expensive and you’re not going to buy it.

    I think the situations are comparable only if the cashier actually made the product in the box. Doesn’t that make a difference?

    @Nonny: He’s saying he’ll delete those comments when readers make them in the Big Idea posts, but I think this sentence is generally intended:

    I find the people who get huffy about an electronic book not being [insert price you believe for whatever reason an eBook should be] are exhibiting a particularly tiresome sort of entitlement, to wit, that owning an electronic book reader means that you are possibly obliged to announce your opinion on book pricing at every turn.

    Regardless, what struck me as totally illogical was the way he was trying to argue that ebooks are NOT special snowflakes. If that’s true, then why get pissed when readers act like regular consumers? It seems to me that Scalzi has deeper issues with digital books and their readers than mere comments in his Big Idea posts.

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  60. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:28:31

    @theo:

    I’m going to look over everything, price, description, reviews of the five star book before I’m going to look at the three star book.

    You’re free to shop any way you want. Just as I am. I am in no way obligated to change my review practices to accomodate your shopping practices.

    I’m actually more likely to spring for a 3 star book or a “C” book than I am for a 5 star/”A” book. Why? Because the “C” usually features a more varied amount and type of reviews averaging out to a “C,” “C+,” or “B-.” I have more info on what folks loved, liked, disliked, and loathed about the book (if they review well.)

    If everybody gives a book 5 stars, that may set up unrealistic expectations for new readers/shoppers. They rationalize “Everybody loves this book, it must be fabulous.” It may very well be fabulous, but I doubt it’s perfect.

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  61. Amy111
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:28:51

    Maybe more accurate to depict a Macy’s customer complaining to a clothing laborer in Pakistan or China that the prices on the clothing they’re producing is too high.

    Like those clothing workers, authors get very little return on the labor they put into their item. And like those clothing workers–I still maintain–that authors have very little power to affect the final pricing of what they’ve produced.

    Maybe self publishing or small press publishing can change that for authors, but so often I see people on this and other blogs marginalizing self publishers and small presses as being less worthy of respect than Big 6 published work. So what do people want? Cheaper, more accessible books at lower quality, or Big 6 books with higher prices?

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  62. Meoskop
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:33:49

    Milan has already pointed out the fatal flaw in the authors as cashiers argument.

    Some publishers and some authors are angry that readers want a voice in this market. Some authors feel readers should come in two flavors, silent or adoring. I support the authors and publishers that want our business and our opinion. The rest can follow their self fulfilling prophecy to history’s dustbin.

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  63. Meoskop
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:37:29

    @Amy111: Sorry for the double post, the edit function doesn’t work on this device.

    That is a false argument. The choice is not between reasonable prices and low quality. The Agency model is not driven by quality. If paper books can be discounted, so can less fully featured digital.

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  64. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:39:04

    @Amy111:

    Maybe more accurate to depict a Macy’s customer complaining to a clothing laborer in Pakistan or China that the prices on the clothing they’re producing is too high.

    Most authors are well-educated people from first-world countries with a host of other options for what to do with their lives besides “write books.” Authors are not in any way equivalent to someone whose choice is between starving to death or laboring for pennies in virtual slavery.

    Look at the “what I was before authoring” list for any given author and you’ll see professions like lawyer, professor, medical doctor, reporter. Authors overwhelmingly come from solidly middle to upper-middle class backgrounds. Of course there are exceptions–there are always exceptions–but I can’t think of a single author who doesn’t have a meaningful choice about the work that she does.

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  65. JulieB
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:42:36

    As Nonny has pointed out several times, it seems Scalzi is simply trying to keep the Big Idea comments on topic. The Big Idea is about what goes into the writing of a book. It’s not about production, it’s not about pricing or DRM, or any of the other myriad associated topics.

    These other topics are important, but there’s also something to be said about keeping comments related to the topic of the post. I’d be up in arms if Scalzi was limiting conversation about the industry in general, but it doesn’t appear to be the case.

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  66. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:44:10

    @Robin/Janet:

    I think a pretty strong argument could be made that authors ARE the customer service department for their own book.

    If that is so, then authors should be free to respond on reviews of their work without facing negative crticism from the reviewers and other readers. Customer service entities should be allowed to defend and promote their products in a civil, professional manner. Readers/customers don’t have to listen, of course, but they should respect the author/merchant’s right to a say.

    Instead, authors are routinely criticized for speaking up about anything UNLESS it’s something readers want them to speak up about. Then they’re criticized for not speaking up.

    However, if a reader is dissatisfied with the price of a book I’ve written, s/he should feel free to communicate that to me. How I respond depends upon the complainant’s method of expression. A courteous, professional e-mail is more likely to impress me and command respect than disruptive, off-topic blog posts.

    It’s simple. And it’s fair.

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  67. theo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:48:32

    @Author on Vacation:

    I don’t believe I asked you to change your review habits. What I did try to point out that yours is not a review of the story, but of a decision made by the seller that should have been taken up with the seller. You did a disservice to the author of the book who, as I mentioned, might not have had any control at all over what the seller did with the first, second, or third chapter of the book.

    And that’s not the review I want to read. I want to read about story, content, characters, plot, not that you weren’t happy you only got one chapter free and therefore penalized the author in the process.

    That said, whether I agree with Scalzi limiting posts or not, it is his blog and if he’s trying to keep the comments on track, that’s ultimately his decision. Rather like the publisher with prices.

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  68. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:52:27

    @theo:

    And that’s not the review I want to read.

    You are perfectly right to feel that way and refrain from reading the reviews you regard as irrelevant or unfair.

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  69. anonymous
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 11:59:18

    Jane Litte’s Agony and Ecstasy ebook is too highly priced and I will not be buying it.

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  70. theo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:04:14

    @Author on Vacation:

    You’re quite right! However, unless the review is tagged as such, how does a reader know until they’ve started reading the review?

    So at the risk of repeating myself, complain to the right person/entity. Not the wrong person.

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  71. Ros
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:08:37

    @theo: No, it’s not the author’s fault but a review is a review of the product. Which for a physical book includes the physical characteristics of the book.

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  72. Author on Vacation
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:11:37

    @theo:

    You’ve made an excellent point. Perhaps booksellers should fine-tune their review system so that reviewers can specify if their dissatisfaction is related strictly to the creative content of a book, or if there were other factors involved more related to the book’s physical condition (paper quality, cover art, etc.) or to customer service issues (late delivery, inaccurate advertising, etc.)

    I suggest you and other concerned parties take it up with customer service. Good luck with that.

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  73. Ros
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:15:43

    @theo: How is a review on Amazon or any other bookseller’s site in any way ‘a complaint to the author’? It’s a review of a product. FOR THE BENEFIT OF OTHER CONSUMERS. So a review can usefully cover every aspect of the product including but not limited to: formatting of ebooks, physical characteristics of physical books, how well the product matches the seller’s description, how well the book has been copyedited/proofread, price, cover art. Those are all things which, as a customer, I’m interested in, whether or not they have anything to do with the author or the story.

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  74. John
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:18:22

    What I find frustrating is that Scalzi is saying that readers are being purely entitled because they complain about prices when the readers are consuming the books as a commercial product.

    As an aspiring writer and avid reader, I understand that books are a work of art and a part of the cultural aspects of our society. Like all art, though, there is a commercial aspect to book writing, and in going to a publisher it is clear that the author believes that said book is a piece of art that is also commercial. With the advent of self-publishing, it seems to make sense (to me at least) that if authors are going to a traditional publisher, they are making the conscious decision that their art is marketable in a commercial context.

    The reason I think readers are right in their complaints is that the author makes the decision to go into this commercial relationship. Going into a publisher relationship shows that the author is willing to have the publisher control pricing and other such things about their book. If your audience won’t respond to those prices, then it’s up to you as the author to figure out what to do about it. Do you self-publish because the reader demand for your work just can’t go to equilibrium with your prices, or do you attempt to lower the prices by asking your publisher? Authors have enough control over their product that it’s worth mentioning, and a reader complaining to a publisher has less effect than a readership telling an author, and the author attempting to work something out with their publisher or their business model.

    Self-publishing also makes it clearer to readers that authors have the option of total control over their product. Whether or not the book is good doesn’t matter. If the book doesn’t reach the readership because of its price, it’s not because the readers are in the wrong. Maybe many of your readers are lower class and can’t afford high ebook prices (or ebooks period). Maybe many of your readers are struggling college students or people without enough disposable income to spend money on any old book. Readers have every right to make economic decisions that benefit them in regards to commercial luxury products.

    They may need books, but they don’t NEED them, and as a result there’s nothing wrong with them saying that they value a product only so much. That’s why some people won’t pay for $80 designer jeans. They don’t value the product enough to pay that much for it. No one ever tells them that they’re insulting the designer by not being willing to pay that money – they believe the consumer is making an economic decision that is best for their situation. To an avid reader, choosing not to purchase books higher than x-amount may lead to a big monetary difference. If many ebooks are 10 and the reader can only afford 10 of spending money a week on books after their necessities, then does it make more sense to buy 2 possibly good books for 5 or 1 possibly good book for 10?

    That’s exactly why readers have a right to say that pricing effects their decisions. Most people have to make an economic decision like that, and unless the author is worth a high price for them, they’ll go with something of a similar/slightly lower quality if it means they can read more. Avid readers especially value the idea of quantity if the difference in quality is relatively minimal between the prices. It may suck as an author, but it’s just as rude (to me) to tell people they should support authors anyway. Authors need money, but so do consumers, and in a commercial market you aren’t going to have consumers with the ability to spend everything. Complaining to the author may seem rude, too, but as long as the decision to enter into publishing relies on the author, then it’s perfectly okay in my mind. If an author can self-publish their work with about the same quality and charge half as much as a result of self-publishing, then why is it wrong to say that the author has control over what they do?

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  75. Kim
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:43:41

    There is a big disconnect between publishers and readers. Whenever I’ve emailed a complaint to one of the big 6, I’ve never heard back from them. Until a recent DA post, I never knew that a publisher didn’t consider me their customer. So even if someone writes to the publisher, it’s doubtful they will get a response.

    That said, I have a problem with readers that leave a 1 star review on Amazon because they don’t like the cost of the ebook. I was surprised by how many people are doing this. Since the author doesn’t control the price, is it right to impact their livelihood? I have no problem with someone criticizing the content, such as poor editing or grammar, but the price is completely out of the writer’s hands. Certain forums just aren’t the right place for this argument.

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  76. theo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:49:17

    @Ros:

    I’m guessing I didn’t explain myself enough or correctly in my first post. Author on Vacation’s review had absolutely nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with B&N’s poor handling of it and poor advertising of it as being ‘free’ when it was only the first chapter that was free. So again, why penalize the author for B&N’s poor practices? That’s not a review of the book or the author. It’s a review of B&N, but to give the book and author one star because B&N is the one who dropped the ball in my opinion, is wrong. The one star and complaint should lie with B&N.

    And it’s only my opinion.

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  77. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:56:46

    So again, why penalize the author for B&N’s poor practices?

    I think this is where I’m getting confused. How is a one-star review that explains why it is a one-star review “penalizing” the author?

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  78. Amy111
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 13:05:27

    @CourtneyMilan

    I feel that you’re purposely trying to misunderstand my analogy. My point is that, like those laborers making clothing, authors don’t have any control over what happens to their “merchandise” after it leaves their hot little hands.

    To say they have the control of choosing their publisher and therefore are responsible for the price of their books is a specious argument to me too.

    The blame for pricing should be lain at the feet of publishers where it belongs, not authors–unless they are self published. My .02.

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  79. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 13:15:14

    @Amy111: I don’t think Courtney is misunderstanding your analogy; I think she’s arguing that it’s not sound.

    Look at your clothing example. You are relating the author of a manuscript to a sweat shop worker. But the author is much more analogous to the garment designer, with the manufacturer being analogous the publisher. So you analogy is more like the reader complaining to a mail room clerk in the publishing house. Complaining to the author is more like complaining to a clothing designer. Both have the original creative project and all the rights around that object. They sell some of those rights to put their creative content into production. That is, they make the choice to take rights they own and assign them to another entity. So while it *might* be true that authors don’t control pricing in terms of actually setting the price, they make the original decision to place their product into manufacture with the entity that does set the price. That is, they didn’t *lose* control of the rights – they intentionally and freely place them with a publisher in the hopes that both will make a profit from the product. In other words, your analogy really supports the opposite point from the one you’re trying to make, I think.

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  80. Ros
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 13:23:30

    @theo: Again, I don’t see that a review is a penalty for the author. It is a review of a product. Since the product Author on Vacation received was different from that which was advertised, she is more than entitled to say so in her review and grade accordingly.

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  81. theo
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 13:31:32

    @Ros:

    I want to make sure I’m understand you. Say an author has 10 reviews, 8 of which are dissing B&N’s practice and are in no way related to the author or the quality/content/writing of the book itself by said author and yet, said author’s book only has a one star rating because of people’s dissatisfaction with B&N’s handling of it, then you’re saying the author really isn’t being penalized in any way?

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  82. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 13:32:24

    @Author on Vacation: If that is so, then authors should be free to respond on reviews of their work without facing negative crticism from the reviewers and other readers.

    Which they do. But like ALL commercial enterprises, their response is subject to public scrutiny. How many corporations try to defend their actions, only to find themselves inundated by even MORE public criticism? Remember the initial Signet response to the Cassie Edwards plagiarism case? It caused such a furor that the publisher had to go back and come up with another response before people were satisfied. Authors, of course, face the same potential backlash for responding. No one is keeping them from response (in fact, I’ve yet to see bloggers who delete author comments from their blogs), but like all commercial entities, they have no guarantee the public will find their response satisfactory. Some authors have been roundly praised for their response, though, so it’s clearly not a universal truth that response will be met with clamor.

    @JulieB: As I said in my post, I don’t have a problem with Scalzi deleting comments on his blog — his blog, his rules, and at least he’s giving everyone fair warning. My beef with his post is that IMO it’s illogical and based on some incorrect suppositions (e.g. publishers are easy to reach and complain to). @Jane did a great job of explaining some of the logical contradiction in his post. Now you may not agree with either of us about Scalzi’s argument, and I respect that. But the comment deletion and the substantive argument are two different issues, as far as I’m concerned.

    As for whether or not he’s limiting his comments to the Big Idea posts, do you think he’s saying that readers are only tiresomely entitled when they make their complaints in those threads? Like it’s some kind of conditional state of dickdom?

    I find the subject boring and I find the people who get huffy about an electronic book not being [insert price you believe for whatever reason an eBook should be] are exhibiting a particularly tiresome sort of entitlement, to wit, that owning an electronic book reader means that you are possibly obliged to announce your opinion on book pricing at every turn.

    That seems like a pretty general statement to me.

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  83. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 13:50:42

    Most of the people here seem to be fundamentally misinformed as to both the power relationships inherent in publishing, and the industry’s cost structure.

    First, power. Publishing is a buyer’s market. For example, one SF publisher I’ve worked with brings out about a dozen original titles a month; call it a hundred to a hundred and forty a year.

    They get over forty -thousand- unsolicited manuscripts a year. (Or did a few years ago.)

    Now, most of this is unpublishable dreck. Until you’ve seen the slush pile, you would not believe how bad most of it is; often (unintentionally) hilariously bad. Millions of people think they can write. They’re almost all wrong.

    But in that avalanche of crap, there are many, many more reasonably publishable books than can possibly be published. The number of titles put out is already too high.

    So unless you’re a best-seller with an established audience, you hav

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  84. ReadingPenguin
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 14:07:16

    Pricing does present a sticky little problem for me as a reviewer. It’s never been something I mention directly, but in the back of my mind as I’m writing up a review. I’m always going to hesitate to recommend a book that I know is overpriced or has crazy geographic restrictions that are going to make it unobtainable for many readers. I guess I see it as unfair to promote, even indirectly, what I see as an unjustly and greedily priced product.

    So, even though I’m never one to bring up pricing in my blogging or reviewing, I have no problem with other people raising that issue. It’s not entitled behavior, it’s making an honest assessment of a product’s value relative to it’s cost. It’s a shame if it hurts the author, but fear over hurt feelings shouldn’t mean that readers can’t express their legitimate issues.

    I seriously wish retailers like Amazon allowed me to rate the pricing of books separately. I also wish I knew who exactly would be the most effective person/people to complain to about prices. Because I don’t know who to complain to, I don’t usually complain at all. But like I said, if a book costs to much, that fact is there in the back of my mind, influencing my rating and my recommendations.

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  85. Amy111
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 14:21:05

    @Stirling

    Exactly. I think readers are misunderstanding the power authors have with publishers. Unless, as I said, authors are self published. Then they have all the power but ooops, no prestige.

    An author with a manuscript is not participating in a seller’s market. They have almost no power, except for the power to settle for a lesser publisher or self publishing in order to have more control over pricing.

    Even then they have no real control. As an earlier poster said, the secondary publishers all have similar price structures which are not negotiable, and self publishing authors are pretty much required these days to price at 99cents or 2.99. So I don’t really understand this conjecture that authors have this measurable power to choose their publisher/pricing based on customer needs.

    Maybe JK Rowling could take on her publisher. Oh wait, I think she wasn’t able to do that either. Yeah, I think basically no author can.

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  86. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 14:25:34

    Ooops, premature send. Sorry.

    As I was saying, all but the very top tier of writes have NO power relative to the publisher. The writer is the suppliant, with hordes of hungry wannabees snapping at their heels.

    You are dirt beneath the publisher’s feet. And while you’re a newbie, or in midlist, you will be treated that way.

    They ignore your phone calls or emails, they casually forget to get you revision letters until desperately late, they equally casually forget to pay you for months on end after it’s due and leave you to find the rent money where you can, they drop your book into a promotional black hole or let the schedule lapse for administrative convenience, then they demand impossible turnarounds on copyedits, you name it.

    It’s like acting. 99% of “actors” are waiting table or something of that nature. Most of them never will be able to make even a modest living from their craft. They’re so desperate they’ll take anything and do anything.

    Likewise, most authors are actually making their living from something else. They can be replaced in an instant. The minute they become a bother, they will be. Purchasing decisions on fiction are made by, at most, a couple of hundred people in New York, and they all talk to each other.

    I’ve seen writing careers wrecked by a single unfortunate phone call. If you can’t accept this, you’re in the wrong line of work.

    (Hence the fact that advances on first novels haven’t significantly increased in -fifty years-, by the way.)

    Even when you’ve got a solid track record and start making some money — roughly my position, now that I’m regularly hitting the NYT list — your power over the publisher is very limited. Sure, you’re a profit center now… but you have nowhere to go. You still need them far more than they need you. And you’re only as good as the sales record on your latest couple of books. It’s an utterly unforgiving and brutal universe.

    Only at the very, very top of the field, people like Stephen King or George R.R. Martin (or, on an interstellar level, J.K. Rowling) do you have any say in what happens to your book once you turn in in.

    So as far as the overwhelming majority of authors are concerned, we not only have very little influence over even things cover art, we have no — as in ZIP, NADA — influence over things like pricing.

    Even our -editors- don’t really have much influence over that; it’s set by the suits in management.

    But we authors have NO influence over it. Sometimes they don’t even bother to -tell- us what they’re going to charge, or other critical stuff.

    So yes, you should not complain to us about pricing. We have no say in it.

    You can complain to the publisher. And guess what? They’ll ignore you.

    Even more, if that’s possible, than they ignore us.

    They have marketing specialists who judge what the market will bear, and they charge exactly that.

    Are you a “customer”? Sure. Just like the people who buy airline tickets. And look how -they- get treated!

    But talking to us about it is -even more- futile than sending an E-mail to Simon & Schuster.

    You’re just giving us tsuris, and believe me, an author’s life gets more than enough of that already.

    If you want to complain to an author about things we CAN do something about — writing, for example — you may or may not get a hearing.

    Kvetching about price (or production quality) is, in 99.9% of cases, just going to get you classified as a “nut” or “pissant” or “dick” and after the first time, deleted unread. Life is short, time is limited, and authors already waste too much of it online.

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  87. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 14:42:15

    Moving on to the pricing structure:

    About 15% of a print book’s price represents the physical, dead-tree cost of production: That’s the -total- cost of paper, typesetting, printing, binding, cover art and so forth.

    So the justifiable difference between an ebook’s cost of production and a print book’s is, at most, 15%.

    Hey, and guess what — publishers do not actually make a profit on most of their books.

    This is because it costs nearly as much to produce a book that sells 5,000 copies (fairly typical for a first novel) as one which sells 50,000 (which will put you on the NYT list, or close).

    And no, this isn’t as much of an advantage for ebooks as you might think. That’s because there are very steep economies of scale in printing physical books — the more copies you produce, the less each copy costs, because a lot of the costs are fixed at the beginning.

    So only books which sell -well above the average- actually make a profit. Bestsellers make a lot of money, but most books aren’t bestsellers.

    So it makes perfect sense for an e-book to cost twelve or fifteen bucks, if a hardcover costs twenty-five. In fact, that price means a cut in the publisher’s profit margin.

    And publishing is a -low-margin business-. Returns are seldom much above 5% on capital; and that’s not very high by business standards. Only airlines have a worse record, among major business sectors.

    One of the recurring sad jokes of publishing is hotshot MBA’s coming in and thinking they can revolutionize the industry and get margins up to the 8-16% range.

    This always fails.

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  88. Meri
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 14:49:10

    Scalzi responds, and argues that his personal experience showed him that he’s right, so clearly Janet must be wrong, and his opinion is the only fact-based one (or, in other words – he is an astronomer and she is a believer in astrology).

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/12/27/dear-readers-publishers-think-of-you-as-customers-i-swear/

    I actually do read Whatever regularly, and usually find John Scalzi quite interesting – but I don’t believe this was one of his better efforts.

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  89. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 14:49:40

    Next rock: what publishers actually do.

    As I mentioned, producing the physical book is a minor part of publishing costs.

    What publishers actually do — their function in the greater ecology of literature — is act as a filter.

    They take the flood of unreadable garbage, and filter most of it out, so readers don’t have to.

    Believe me, there’s a reason people have to be -paid- to do this. It’s excruciating and would take all your time.

    So publishers wade through the sewage, find authors who can write (and who are psychologically sturdy enough to handle a very rough line of work) and then nuture and promote them.

    Secondarily, they copyedit, commission cover pictures and so forth; and they do commercial promotion.

    But that -is- secondary. Publishing companies don’t like to admit it, but promotion mostly reinforces success. You can filter out the really, really bad stuff, but a lot of it’s raw chance after that.

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  90. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:04:08

    @Meri: Because I should definitely take the word of a single author (and a Macmillan author, who was one of the first out of the gate to support so-called agency pricing, to boot) over the word of the publishers themselves. Okie dokie.

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  91. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:04:37

    @Amy111: I feel that you’re purposely trying to misunderstand my analogy. My point is that, like those laborers making clothing, authors don’t have any control over what happens to their “merchandise” after it leaves their hot little hands.

    I don’t misunderstand your analogy; I disagree with it. I’m fed up with the “captivity” narrative that I keep hearing.

    Nobody is captive. Nobody is forced to sell their books to a publisher. Especially not today.

    When a reader e-mails you to complain about pricing, do you forward that e-mail to your publisher? Have you asked your publisher to change the price of your e-book? Have you talked to your publisher about digital promotions? When you go up for contract renewal, are you asking where they will price your digital book? Are you even trying to talk to your publisher about the price of your book? You don’t need to be rude during the discussion, but if your publisher is pricing your digital version at $14.99, it’s costing you money. Why on earth would you not bring this up?

    I know people who have done these things and have seen their publishers change prices on ebooks. (Admittedly, I also know people whose publishers haven’t budged–but you don’t know who you’re dealing with until you actually try.)

    Of course, there’s always the mentality that some authors have that you dare not ask for things, anything at all. But most of the editors I’ve talked to have been really reasonable people, who want the same thing that authors want, which is to sell lots of copies of books. In the unlikely event that your publisher is not reasonable, and carries spiteful grudges against authors who want to sell books, you’re better off walking.

    And you may not want to hear it, but you can walk these days. Maybe you don’t want to self-publish–lots of people don’t, and they have good reasons for it–but there are other options. There are digital only presses. There are some specialty niche publishers that have done amazing jobs for their authors. Your publisher has real competition, and that means you have more choice today than you’ve ever had.

    The person who is willing to walk away from a negotiation has the upper hand. In the face of that, there’s no excuse for casting yourself as a pitiful rabbit, unable to control events.

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  92. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:04:43

    I have definite feelings about the “fair” price of ebooks, but my sense of whether a book is priced fairly or not is based on a combination of factors, only one of which is the actual dollar price of the book. In other words, there are some books that I find overpriced at free–I think the author should be paying ME to waste my time reading their dreck–while others I might find to be a bargain at as much as $10. Other readers may come to the exact opposite conclusion about precisely the same books. Which means that quantifying what is a “fair” price for a book–be it digital or any other format–by any method other than seeing what the market will bear is a fool’s errand.

    And that, in my opinion, is what publishers do. They price books and see if the market will bear that price. Individual readers complaining about the price, whether to the author or the publisher, is not particularly relevant if the book is selling to the publisher’s satisfaction at the current market price. Just as your local seafood restaurant doesn’t drop the price of lobster to suit you so long as a sufficient number of customers are willing buy it at the market rate, publishers won’t drop the prices of their books because you think it’s too high.

    Now, it also looks to me as though some of the Big 6 publishers are coming to the conclusion that their initial pricing of digital books was too high. For example, Avon has dropped the price of most of their front list titles in digital from $7.99 to $4.99. I suspect a lot of publishers are going to be following suit. But for some readers, that will STILL be too much. Does that mean publishers are obligated to drop prices even further, to satisfy every possible reader? Of course not.

    Now, I don’t think it’s “dick-ish” to complain to the author about the price of an ebook (although realistically, the author may not be able to DO anything other than pass the complaint on to his/her editor), but I do think it’s a trifle rude to insert oneself into every conversation about a book and announce that you think said book is overpriced. I wouldn’t find that appropriate if the book was a hardcover or trade paperback print edition; I’m not sure why the fact that it’s in digital format makes bitching about price any more excusable, at least when it is off the original topic. That is what I took Scalzi to be complaining about when he said ebooks are not “special snowflakes”. He meant that the format does not, in and of itself, justify readers injecting the price debate into the discussion.

    One other thing I want to mention is that a lot of the books you’re seeing released today were contracted 2-3 years ago. Many authors only write one book a year, which means their last three book contract may have been signed in 2008 or 2009. I don’t think any author signing a contract back then should be expected to have been prescient enough to know what the digital book market would look today and demand concessions on things like ebook pricing. And let’s face it, self-publishing wasn’t nearly as acceptable an option in 2009 as it is today. I think it’s safe to say that in 2009, most people still considered self-publishing to be a form of career suicide.

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  93. Ros
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:07:14

    @theo: I am saying that as a reader, I wouldn’t want to buy a book that was badly formatted, incomplete, not delivered by the seller as promised, etc. So sure, the author is penalised but not by the reviewers – by the seller/publisher/etc. who is responsible for the mistakes.

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  94. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:26:10

    @Amy111 I think what we are disagreeing with is where the control begins. From your analogy you think that control begins with the publisher. I (and others in the thread) believe that the control begins with the author, the creator of the work.

    Once the book is written, the author has potential choices. She can not seek publication. She can self publish. She can publish with a vanity press. She can publish with a digital first imprint. She can publish with a small print press. She can publish with a big six.

    When she makes one of those choices, she gives up control in exchange for money. Then she goes back to write another book.

    Readers look at her choices and if they are unhappy, they express their unhappiness. They didn’t like the book. They didn’t like the price. They didn’t like the cover.

    So the next time the author is faced with the potential choices, she has these various data points. Am I losing money on sales by going with publisher a v. publisher b? Am I alienating readers and encouraging piracy by restricting my geo sales? Is the amount of money I am offered by the publisher enough to overcome potential lost sales because it is digital only or print only or high priced?

    Listening to reader complaints can provide the author the means by which she can make the best business decision for her. I doubt that there is any business decision that an author will make that will result in zero complaints. But the author, as a business person, can filter through those complaints and use what is valuable and discard what is not.

    Control over any number of things begins with the author with each new product. How much of the control she gives up in exchange for money is up to her but there is no scenario in which the author does not begin with control (even a work for hire because the author chooses to enter that contract to receive money in exchange for complete relinquishment of rights).

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  95. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:31:38

    @Amy111: I think readers are misunderstanding the power authors have with publishers. Unless, as I said, authors are self published. Then they have all the power but ooops, no prestige.

    Wait a second. You feel more prestigious because you work with someone who makes you feel like a garment manufacturer in Bangladesh?

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  96. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:33:27

    That is what I took Scalzi to be complaining about when he said ebooks are not “special snowflakes”. He meant that the format does not, in and of itself, justify readers injecting the price debate into the discussion.

    @Jackie Barbosa: But it’s still not a logically sound argument, since the entire so-called agency pricing model is a special snowflake model. Publishers are admittedly treating digital books differently than print books, in part because they have wanted to suppress the rapid growth and adoption of digital. And now, of course, that model is under investigation by the EC and the DOJ. I guess that makes them dicks, too. ;P

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  97. Las
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:48:05

    @Amy111: You’re analogy is absurd. For the sake of not assuming the absolute worse in people I’ll just inform you, since you obviously don’t know, that choosing that analogy makes you sound, at best, extremely ignorant, and at worst, like a fundamentally awful human being. So, if you don’t want to come across that way, you need to choose another analogy.

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  98. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:53:21

    Publishers are admittedly treating digital books differently than print books, in part because they have wanted to suppress the rapid growth and adoption of digital.

    @Robin/Janet: And it’s working so well for them, too ;)!

    I am not going to argue that publishers didn’t try to do a pretty bizarre end run around normal retail practices when it came to pricing ebooks. But even in the case of publisher who don’t do agency-pricing, I think a lot of readers feel prices are too high. (I know Ellora’s Cave recently dropped the prices, but their titles are still, IMO, very high relative to length. I cannot be induced to pay $5+ for a category length story.)

    That said, what it appears some readers are doing on Scalzi’s blog is akin to someone coming to DA and commenting on every one of Jane’s Agony/Ecstasy anthology posts that the book is overpriced. Those posts were not posts about pricing. How would injecting pricing into the comment thread add any value?

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  99. meoskop
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:54:16

    @S.M. Stirling: People here are aware of everything you are saying. None of it is relevant. Using the digital book purchasers to offset poor financial models through limited yet higher priced wares is a bad business model. Publishers lying on the fainting couch saying we don’t understand their problems will fail. Publishers figuring out how to hit the actual paper price point (as opposed to MSRP) for digital consumers and overcome the DRM divides will thrive.

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  100. Michelle
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 15:58:11

    I took his post to mean no complaints in the Big Idea thread (though by other twitter comments this may not be correct. ) I think there is a time and a place. Imagine attending an author’s signing at an event. If someone told the author, your prices are too high I won’t be buying your book-I would think what a jerk. Just because someone can do a thing, doesn’t mean they should. I agree that pricing should be discussed and considered, but I agree a blog owner should be able to put restrictions in place.

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  101. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 16:07:37

    @Jackie Barbosa That’s an easy question to answer. Because if there were a multitude of complaints about the price of the anthology (and I assume that there are because it is high priced) then I would think twice about doing another anthology with Berkley if it were an income producing endeavor (which it was not and no, I am not likely to do another). Additionally, authors who participated and received complaints might not want to participate because the high price = lower sales = lower recognition/promotional value = lower return on investment of work.

    In other words, if I can repeat myself, it gives the person in control of the work a data point by which to direct her behavior.

    Let me take a different tack. If, in the comments, I received complaints about how slow the site was, I would look at the cost of switching to a new provider, what kind of support I could find from a different provider, how many people would likely continue with the site if I moved, how many people would stop visiting if the site wasn’t moved, etc.

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  102. Las
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 16:08:42

    @Jackie Barbosa:
    That said, what it appears some readers are doing on Scalzi’s blog is akin to someone coming to DA and commenting on every one of Jane’s Agony/Ecstasy anthology posts that the book is overpriced. Those posts were not posts about pricing. How would injecting pricing into the comment thread add any value?

    That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking while reading the comments. I think readers have the right to complain, sure, but, again, there’s a time and a place. Scalzi is right on in deleting those comments–they’re tedious and seem to be written for no other reason than to derail the discussion.

    That said, authors aren’t victims, and this narrative being built up here of the big bad publisher and the poor little author who could is growing really tiresome. If authors get that upset about readers’ complaints, they shouldn’t bother interacting with them. Don’t write a blog, participate in other blogs, tweet, etc., as a way to make your presence known among readers and then get pissy when you get something other than praise.

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  103. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 16:21:38

    I find it pretty rude when people go to an author site and complain about prices because the author DOESN’T usually control the prices. Usually the reader knows this too–they are at the author site precisely because the author is accessible and the publisher (who does control prices) has the appearance of being unapproachable. See, if you post a complaint on the website or blog of the author, you are likely to get a response, even if it is “Sorry.” If you post on the publisher site (and they are all out there) you are likely to be ignored. Your comment might even be deleted with no response.

    So the reader goes to someone who is kind enough to answer even if the author can’t do squat about the problem.

    I’ve seen the comments. Most of the time it comes across as bitter and an attack on the author “I won’t support you unless you do something about this.” The author has no say in end pricing and probably never will–unless and until that author puts out the book himself. And that brings on an entirely different complaint.

    It’s like someone coming to my house and saying, “My trash didn’t get picked up so I’m leaving it on your lawn. You should call the trash company.”

    If readers don’t want to pay the prices, they certainly don’t have to. If they want to find it for less, they have options such as the library or buying used. None of these support the author. But to change publisher behavior, the complaint really does need to go to the publisher. And if a reader wants to leave a comment wherever, that is fine too–but a barrage of them by one or more readers at the author site isn’t going to make it back to the people who can change the price.

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  104. infinitieh
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 16:56:53

    I rarely complain about the price of ebooks – I just don’t buy them if they’re over $2.99 (okay, I did pay more than that for Courtney Milan’s UNRAVELED but I had a gc). I view ebooks as “lifetime leasing” as opposed to “owning” and who knows when the current formats will be obsolete? Then all the ebooks I already have (not “owned”) will be meaningless. Besides, kindlegraph is not the same as having the author’s actual signature.

    To me, the competition for ebooks in the local library, even with the surcharges for interlibrary loans (which is wayyyy less than $2.99). Also, at least I can use a coupon for buying paper books which in many cases will bring the cost of the paper book to less than that of the ebook.

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  105. P. Kirby
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 17:05:53

    @Jane: ” Let me take a different tack. If, in the comments, I received complaints about how slow the site was, I would look at the cost of switching to a new provider, what kind of support I could find from a different provider, how many people would likely continue with the site if I moved, how many people would stop visiting if the site wasn’t moved, etc. ”

    Well…with all due respect, I don’t think that’s a particularly good analogy. Readers are consumers and as such, have every right to complain about pricing structures. I don’t necessarily see any problem with letting the author know that the product is priced too high. Especially, if there’s no easy way to contact the publisher. (That said, there’s a time and a place for such things, and inserting your complaints into every mention of the book does strike me as crass.)

    But changing publishers isn’t as straightforward a transaction as switching web hosts. I mean, yeah, changing web hosts is a pain, but by and large, the process is easily initiated by a phone call or email. I’m the customer. If I want out, I get out.

    The publisher/author relationship, however, isn’t business to customer, but more like business to business, with the power held largely by the publisher.

    In order for your analogy to work, you would have to set up a new website, with a different host, leaving this one to languish until your contract with the web host expired or until you could find a valid reason to terminate the contract.

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  106. becca
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 17:07:23

    @
    Courtney Milan: based on reviews and comments here, and on your generally good-sense posts here, I took a flier on your book that was 0.99 – read it, enjoyed it, and immediately purchased all 6 of your other books, *because they were reasonably priced.* I was willing to pay – what, about $35 for some excellent reading (for which I thank you, and when is your next book coming out?)

    had those books been $7.99 each, I doubt I would have purchased one of them, much as I enjoyed your novella. So thank your publisher (HQN? I think so) and tell them that you’ve got another devoted fan.

    I’m certainly not going to take a flier on an unknown-to-me author for $8. Instead, I’ll re-read something I know I’ll enjoy if I don’t have anything in Mount TBR that appeals to me. And it’s gotta be a Lois Bujold or a Nora Roberts to get me to pay over $10 for an ebook (and I doubt I’ll pay that for the next Inn Boonesboro book… the value just isn’t there for me).

    But if authors are the wrong place to discuss pricing, and publishers don’t listen, who can we tell when we avoid a new book because it’s priced too high? How do we tell the next Courtney Milan or Nora Roberts that we’re not even going to try their books, because we simply can’t afford them?

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  107. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 17:27:40

    @Jane: I’m not suggesting it’s not helpful to know that readers are troubled by the price of your book. I am suggesting that the comment thread on a blog post might not be the most useful place to voice your complaint. To me, the choice of that forum seems more like an attempt to publicly punish the author than to provide helpful feedback. And as P. Kirby points out, getting out of a three-book contract with your publisher because readers tell you they don’t like your books’ pricing isn’t exactly as easy as changing web hosts (which, frankly, is pretty easy)

    @Las: I agree that authors are not victims here although, to be perfectly fair, the range of options an author has today for publishing a book are considerably different than the options that same author had a year or two ago, and it’s hard for me to judge authors harshly for publishing decisions they made in a very different ecosytem. Even so, the “but I have no CHOICE in my book’s pricing” whine is tiresome.

    When readers tell me they find some of my books overpriced, I have to nod and agree that they are, in fact, overpriced. Unfortunately, my agreement doesn’t help me get my rights reverted so I can republish these titles myself at a lower price point.

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  108. Jane
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 17:28:35

    @P. Kirby I think it is a reasonable analogy (although imperfect) because there is new content evolving here on a regular basis and moving a website is extraordinarily difficult. I’ve done it twice and it is painful each time but moving aside from that, the publisher author relationship is a business to business one. I’m not sure what you mean by “power” though. Once you’ve sold your rights, I completely agree that the publisher holds most of the power.*

    I don’t disagree either that it may often be the exact right decision to sell your product to a big 6 publisher. But control begins with the author and therefore, particularly in today’s publishing environment, complaining to the author about price is also appropriate.

    *edited to add, I suppose the amount of power the publisher holds depends on what publisher and what the terms of the contract are.

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  109. Emily
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 17:30:01

    I think the word Entitlement is loaded word. I get really mad when someone refers to me generation as the “Entitlement” generation. Entitled is being thrown around a lot and its starting to really be overly used.
    That being said as a print reader I keep looking at all the 1.99 sales and thinking how lucky ereaders are. That being said I understand not all ebooks are priced that way but still I consider the sales to be some sort of compensation.
    What really grates me is the arrogance of a lot of the other comments on this. All this when “I can self-publish electronically so can you.” I am remain unconvinced of this. The skill set required to be an author is telling a good story with grammar and language that supports the story. Not every author has the skill set, the knowledge, the resources ,or the desire to be their own publisher. No its not the same as having little choice than working in sweat shop, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have limited options when it comes to chosing how to present their output. I think its unfair to say “if you can’t self-publish then maybe you should a doctor, a lawyer, an architect” is ridiculous and unfair. It says being an author is not enough or by an author we mean author/publicist/publisher. I am not convinced that a writer owes his/her fans anything other than the best books they can write. It is up to a reader to decide how they obtain these books. (I am suddenly remembering a smiliar disbute on Smart Bitches a long time ago before the days of ebooks, where Nora Roberts said something similiar.)
    Comparisons:
    I am a print reader and not able to read most digital only books. That is my choice and I accept it. I do not feel I can afford a Kindle or Nook. Does that give me the right to post everywhere on digital only books and say I can’t read them because I don’t have an e-reader? Like with the review of Unraveled how would people like it if I posted “I am a print reader and it sucks I can’t read this book.”
    I also have a very good library town which allows me to get lots of books for free. Does that mean if a book I want to read but not necessarily own is not my library I complain to the writer. “I wanted to read your book, which I don’t expect to like for free but my library doesn’t have it.”
    To me the arguments about e-pricing are similiar to above claims. It’s up to readers to decide whether those comments are fair. I personally don’t think so.

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  110. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 17:41:35

    @Emily: Like with the review of Unraveled how would people like it if I posted “I am a print reader and it sucks I can’t read this book.”

    FWIW, Unraveled IS available in print: http://www.amazon.com/Unraveled-Courtney-Milan/dp/1468067044/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325029259&sr=1-1

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  111. cecilia
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 18:10:56

    @Emily: As far as not being able to access ebooks goes, if you have the technology to post comments on a blog, you have the technology to read ebooks. I read ebooks on my computer for at least a year before I got any sort of handheld device, and even when I did get one, it wasn’t a dedicated reader.

    In terms of the amazing sale prices, relatively speaking there are a few books available with sale prices, but I have far greater access to deals in print books. There are unlimited “buy 3, get one free deals”, for example that bookstores offer quite commonly around here, and remaindered books and so on. You just don’t see that kind of thing with ebooks since agency pricing started.

    I don’t think the library comparison is quite fair, either. People aren’t outraged the books aren’t free, they’re ticked when the prices seem unjust. What will seem unjust to one may be acceptable to another; for me, the outrage kicks in when the ebook actually costs more than the print book (believe me, it happens). So to me, that’s nothing at all like whining about the library not having it.

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  112. Courtney Milan
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 18:13:52

    @Emily: Like with the review of Unraveled how would people like it if I posted “I am a print reader and it sucks I can’t read this book.”

    I just want to be clear–I think it’s perfectly fine to say, “no kvetching about price in this particular type of post; it’s not meant for that.” My issue is with Scalzi’s comment that one shouldn’t complain to the author at all, as she has no control over pricing.

    When people e-mail me to tell me that something of mine isn’t available somewhere, I see that as an opportunity, not as some dire complaint that I have to wear as a hair shirt. When someone contacts me saying, “I want to read your book, but I can’t because ____,” I appreciate that. Really.

    For instance: Audible and ACX don’t usually include self-published books. But I got a handful of really exuberant e-mails from readers when my Unveiled/Unclaimed went up on Audible. So I contacted ACX asking them to include Unlocked, and in that e-mail, I quoted the readers saying they really wanted it. I got approved for the program in 24 hours. I should have asked sooner, and I’m grateful that readers complained to me.

    There is no reason an author can’t do the same sort of thing with her publisher–collect e-mails, make a list, and say, “I’m seeing a lot of people saying they’d love to try my books out, but that the price point is giving them pause. Could we do a promotion when my next book comes out, where we drop this first one to $2.99?”

    Ditto for a digital-first author. If I saw a bunch of e-mails saying, “Wow, I wish this book was in print,” I’d definitely let my editor know–nicely–that there was demand, and hopefully we could do something to capitalize on that.

    Even though a publisher may have the final say on the price of a book, authors have a relationship with their editor and can treat their publishing house as a business partnership where both sides provide input.

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  113. Maili
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 18:23:10

    @P. Kirby:

    A) I don’t quite agree because I think it depends on each author’s goals and how career-oriented they are prepared to be.
    B) It depends on each contract, isn’t it? It’s still an author’s choice when she decides to sign a seven-book contract with a publisher.

    Ideally, an author would research all she may need to know about that publisher – from what benefits they have to offer for her as a career author (percentages, interaction, marketing, distribution, career/brand building, etc.) and the benefits for her readers (good pricing, good customer service, etc) because that publisher is, basically, a distributor of her books.

    The pub will do all it can to maximise the profitability of each work she’ll produce through marketing and distribution as well as selling sub rights and blah blah. At the very basic, the author is a producer, the agent is a negotiator, the pub is a distributor, etc.

    I agree with the others that the control is fundamentally the author’s. Her choice is finalised through a contract with her publisher, surely?

    So what if she has no control over pricing? She still chose that publisher, anyway, as signing that contract has effectively made her the public face of the chosen publisher’s current and future corporate/editorial decisions and actions involving her books.

    People always say it’s hard to sell books and blah blah, but I think those who have absolute faith in their talent and career wouldn’t sacrifice some aspects just to have their book published. Rather, they would consider all possible options that could showcase their work the best; provide the most lucrative means possible and serve her customers/readers the best way possible. Self-publishing, contract with one of the big 6, contract with a digital press, contract with a small press, etc. – none of that matters as long as one of those fits each author’s vision, needs, ambitions and philosophy the way they want it.

    I think the best example of authors doing that is Courtney Milan. From what I see so far, she’s career-oriented with a fixation on delivering what she believes can give what she wants. That’s as in – basically – delivering good stories, good service to readers and build relationship with industry figures in return for an income, brand building and industry knowledge. As far as I can see, she doesn’t limit herself to just one option and that is, to me, a sign of a career author at work. And I personally think it’s a good thing and I hope other authors will do the same in the future, including those who have been in the writing business for 30+ years.

    If–or more accurately–when, an author just wants to see their name on a book cover at any costs, then she or he will have to deal with the consequences of that choice. Likewise for those who just want to write and have their stories read by the widest audience possible. So they’re not quite in a position to complain about readers’ complaints, are they? They are selling a service, aren’t they? Otherwise, they could join a local writing club and stay there for life.

    So yes, if a publisher doesn’t deliver the kind of quality that an author deserves, she or she ought to think ahead when it’s time to renew or acquire a new contract. She or he and their readers deserve that at least, surely? Or is that truly unrealistic?

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  114. Kate Pearce
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 18:40:09

    I don’t think a lot of readers actually know which parts of the publishing process an author actually controls and which they don’t. I’ve had complaints about the historical veracity of the covers, where I got the cover models, how bad the quality of the paper is, how small the print is, and then the usual ones about the prices being too high.
    When I respond to the email I always mention which parts I control and which I don’t, and find that the majority of readers are quite surprised about how little I do have input on. What I do do is relay all those complaints/comments to the publisher and share email addresses with the readers so that they can do so too.
    And also with regards to agency pricing, some of us signed long term contracts just before that came in, so had no choice or warning about our books being set at a particular price point. I would certainly think twice about signing a new contract with one of the Big Six now.

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  115. Las
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 19:31:53

    @Jackie Barbosa:
    I agree that authors are not victims here although, to be perfectly fair, the range of options an author has today for publishing a book are considerably different than the options that same author had a year or two ago, and it’s hard for me to judge authors harshly for publishing decisions they made in a very different ecosytem.

    I don’t disagree with that. I’m with Emily in that it’s unfair to blame authors for choosing and staying with the “wrong” publishers. My statement was more a response to authors being upset about readers complaining to them instead of the publisher, as if it’s unreasonable for readers to do so, and then using the opportunity to go on about how powerless they (sweatshop workers?!).

    Authors are the faces of their books, and they reinforce that image with their interactions with readers. Of course readers are going to send complaints their way. How is that a burden? Just take each complaint is another data point, give your publisher a heads up, and keep doing what you do. I mean, how much is an author being hurt by complaints? Are you still writing? Are you books still getting published? Are people still buying? Are you still making a living writing books? Yes? Then STFU. If you’re so neurotic that any complaint by a reader about things not under your control is going to so deeply affect you, that’s something you need to discuss with your therapist. You make your living selling your product to the public…a bit of patience and graciousness when faced with the negatives of your work isn’t going to kill you.

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  116. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 19:36:32

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    That said, what it appears some readers are doing on Scalzi’s blog is akin to someone coming to DA and commenting on every one of Jane’s Agony/Ecstasy anthology posts that the book is overpriced. Those posts were not posts about pricing. How would injecting pricing into the comment thread add any value?

    The question of value is a different issue, IMO. And depending on what kind of value you mean, the answer will change. The comments might be useful information for the author, for example. Beyond that, the comment adds or doesn’t add value in the same way we judge comments on any thread — subjectively.

    But I’m not focused on the value question anyway. I’m looking at Scalzi’s dual argument, which Jane explained really well — the emotional appeal of “it’s mean” and the rational argument of “it’s the wrong audience.” As I said in my post and in the comments, I think both are incorrect, and ultimately I think the rational argument is somewhat of a cover for the emotional argument, which I think is closer to what Scalzi really believes. Because while he tried to convince me on Twitter that he was just trying to “educate” readers, in what way is calling them names conducive to a teaching moment?

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  117. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 19:46:11

    Reading through the comments, especially those outlining all the ways in which authors do not control the rights they contract out, has me thinking of all the appeals from authors that have been directed at readers over the years: ‘I need to make a living to feed my family’; ‘writers deserve to be paid for their work’; authors don’t make what their work is worth’; ‘I have to work a day job to afford my writing’; authors are losing $XX because of pirating’; ‘authors have almost no intellectual property rights’; ‘author X had to give up writing because of piracy’; ‘publishers/readers/pirates are screwing authors’; digital royalty rates are ridiculously low’; ‘readers just want books for free’, etc. etc. etc.

    So why is it reasonable for authors to tell readers how insufficient they feel their authorial earnings are, but not reasonable for readers to tell authors how unfairly priced they feel their books are?

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  118. Keishon
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 20:37:05

    @Robin/Janet: you forgot to add these: “please buy my book on release day” and “only buy paper because that counts more so I can get on the NYT bestsellers list and then maybe have a writing career.”

    Joking. Don’t flame me please. . Great article Robin. I see the subject of your article has already written a rebuttal.

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  119. JL
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 21:21:00

    @Robin/Janet:
    Hmm, I’ve tried to read all the comments, but I’ve inevitably missed some of the key arguments here, so I apologize if I’m repeating and/or arguing something already dismissed.

    It’s true that authors can choose, to a point, where to publish. Or, at the very least, they can choose not to publish at all with a publisher if they don’t like their pricing. While I don’t disagree with the overall ‘side’ you are arguing, this particular point strikes me as overly neoliberal and somewhat irrelevant to the question of whether readers are entitled d*cks for complaining about pricing. Yes, authors can make this choice, but this will have almost no bearing on the pricing of e-books in general. The structures will stay in place. Self-published books will be cheaper. Big publisher books will be expensive. I may be making to big of a leap here to say that most people vocally complaining aren’t complaining because of one instance in which only one book was too high. Many folks complaining are annoyed that a lot of books they want to read are overpriced. The flip side to the argument (which I don’t agree with) is that readers, if we’re all acting like rational neoliberal agents weighing everything by opportunity costs, should all be reading cheap or free books instead of complaining – especially if we expect authors to act like purely neoliberal agents acting in a free market economy. That only holds up if the purchasers are doing the same.

    While some authors do complain about the poor incomes earned through writing, your last question of “why is it reasonable for authors to tell readers how insufficient they feel their authorial earnings are, but not reasonable for readers to tell authors how unfairly priced they feel their books are?” seems counter-productive to me as well, in that it tacitly condones authors complaining in inappropriate venues.

    My final thought is that your original comments over books as cultural artifacts vs. consumer goods, to me, also feeds the counter-arguments. If both are important, then venues that deal with books as the former, such as ‘Big Ideas’, should be uncontaminated by the latter. In a book review, which arguably treats individual books more like the latter, I’m happy to see complaints about prices. But in ‘Big Ideas’ type posts, or interviews with authors, or the like, complaining does make you an entitled d*ck, assuming you believe that books have cultural value that transcends neoliberal consumption. Yes, we live in an increasingly neoliberal world, and theoretically we should all behave as rational actors, and in many places we have the right to complain about whatever we feel like almost wherever we feel like but that doesn’t mean we can’t also be jerks. People are.

    I apologize this was so long. Again, I agree with you in principle, I just disagree with how you got there.

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  120. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 21:34:13

    Jackie Barbosa says:
    December 27, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    >there are some books that I find overpriced at free

    – this is why I always put up substantial chunks of my works for free on my website — usually about 40% of the total.

    Anyone who wants can sample it. If they don’t like it, fine; tastes differ. If they do buy it, they can’t say that they couldn’t have checked ahead of time.

    >Now, I don’t think it’s “dick-ish” to complain to the author about the price of an ebook

    – it is, at best, a waste of time. As the Tom Lehr song goes:

    “I chust make zem go up
    Where zay come down
    Zat’s not my department
    Says Wehrner von Braun.”

    >I think it’s safe to say that in 2009, most people still considered self-publishing to be a form of career suicide.

    – it still is, most of the time. Occasional self-published books have always made money (Eragon, if I remember correctly).

    But for the most part, self-publishing your backlist only works well if you already have an audience.

    And, of course, new book contracts -always- involve sale of ebook rights. Nothing ever reverts these days.

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  121. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 21:51:39

    94. Jane says:
    December 27, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    >I (and others in the thread) believe that the control begins with the author, the creator of the work.

    – you won’t meet many authors who think that way.

    >the author has potential choices. She can not seek publication.

    – in which case, you’re not an author.

    You’re just a random person with a manuscript in the desk drawer.

    >She can self publish.

    – or buy lottery tickets…

    >She can publish with a vanity press.

    – see “not an author”, above.

    There’s a general rule: if the money does not flow -from- the publisher -to- the author, it’s not actually publishing.

    >She can publish with a digital first imprint.

    – buying lottery tickets, again…

    >She can publish with a big six.

    – who are the only people who can actually pay you, like, -real money- for the months and months of -work- it takes to write a book.

    (Usually about a year, in fact. And that’s working full time.)

    This is how we make our -living-, Jane. It’s how we pay the mortgatge and buy groceries and get braces for the kids’ teeth.

    “Proud independence” is not an option.

    >So the next time the author is faced with the potential choices, she has these various data points.

    – but the people who post on blogs are no more a signifcant share of audience than the ones who write you letters or the ones you meet at a convention.

    -Individual- readers just don’t matter from a business point of view.

    Readers matter only in the -aggregate-.

    Read reviews on Amazon. “Too many battles!” “Not enough battles!”

    PS: usually we don’t write books and then sell them. That’s called writing “on spec” and authors avoid it as much as they can. It’s generally done only when you’re starting out.

    That’s because it means operating on your own nickel, aka “making interest-free loans of working capital to big publishers”.

    Usually after the first couple of books (necessary to establish that you can consistently finish) we sell a proposal, outline and perhaps some sample chapters. I’ve been doing that for 20 years and everyone I know in the business who can operates that way.

    That way, you’re writing on the -publisher’s- nickel, since you get the signing payment before you do the work.

    (The standard split these days is 25% of the advance against royalties on signing, 25% on delivery and acceptance of the completed manuscript, 25% on hardcover publication and 25% on softcover.)

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  122. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 22:04:14

    Jane, let me tell you how contract negotiation works in publishing.

    I could, for example, demand control of pricing decisions in my next contract. Or I could demand to control how digital rights are managed, or whatever.

    And after they finished laughing, they would tell me to bugger off and die. And I have a -lot- more bargaining power than most authors.

    Oh, and word would get around Publisher’s Row within a week that I’d gone nuts, and they would stop taking my (or my agent’s) calls.

    The contracts the major publishing houses offer are what’s known as “boilerplate”.

    They’re standardized. The only negotiable element, really, is the amount of advance they’re going to pay you. And that is basically a function of how well your last couple of titles sold.

    You can fiddle a little on this or that, but usualy trying to get even a small modification on rights, for example, is like trying to push a boulder uphill. And that’s -with- a track record and -with- a good agent doing the hardball.

    Their basic approach to anyone but the uppermost echelon is “take it or leave it”.

    Right. We’re totally free to take it, or not take it. And starve.

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  123. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 22:19:40

    To summarize: “The law, with majestic equality, punishes both rich and poor if they steal bread, or attempt to sleep under bridges”.

    In theory, authors and publishers are equal participants in a process of free bargaining.

    Out here on Planet Reality(tm), publishing is an oligopoly with its boot on our necks.

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  124. Ridley
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 22:37:24

    @S.M. Stirling: tl;dr

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  125. Beverly
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 22:57:06

    @Ridley:
    It’s ok, you didn’t miss much. He basically said:
    1- the people who write and comment here don’t know anything about publishing (even though many of them are authors themselves).
    2 – Authors will starve if they don’t work for the big 6.
    3 – Authors are basically slaves to their publishers because they can’t even speak to them without being ignored and then fired.

    Even if one were to assume that #2 and #3 are true, wouldn’t this motivate an author to change things rather than to accept it as just the way things are?

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  126. Rebecca
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 23:04:51

    What I’m really just sick of are the 1-star reviews on Amazon about “I’m not buying the book because the ebook is too expensive and I hate print.” I personally hate ebooks. To each their own, but I will only read print unless it’s a free short story or something. If I see something I would have liked to read that’s e-book only, I just don’t read it and forget about it. I don’t artificially lower the rating by posting a 1-star review when I haven’t even read the book. I did suggest to one author to offer her book as print on demand as well (and she’s now looking into that), but only because she was an author I’ve read for 12 years that I did an interview with and that sent me signed books a couple of times, that just couldn’t get a publisher to buy this latest book. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have even mentioned it.

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  127. S.M. Stirling
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 23:18:09

    @Beverly: wouldn’t this motivate an author to change things rather than to accept it as just the way things are?

    – the fact that we’re all going to die would motivate us to change things… if we could.

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  128. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 23:33:23

    @JL: It’s true that authors can choose, to a point, where to publish. Or, at the very least, they can choose not to publish at all with a publisher if they don’t like their pricing. While I don’t disagree with the overall ‘side’ you are arguing, this particular point strikes me as overly neoliberal and somewhat irrelevant to the question of whether readers are entitled d*cks for complaining about pricing.

    I’m going to set aside the issue of neoliberalism, because that’s going to take this discussion in another direction, and while I’m not opposed to that conversation, I don’t think we need it to parse this particular set of arguments.

    The author control issue is relevant to Scalzi’s contention that authors have no control over pricing so readers should not complain to them. And because he’s then extrapolating from this point somewhat to the ‘dicks’ characterization, I think it’s relevant in that somewhat tortured chain of illogic. The reason I characterize it as illogical is that a) it is not in any way an uncontested truth that authors have no control over price (see @Courtney Milan’s comment, for example); b) even if authors cannot directly control the price of their books (and when I refer to “publishers” I generally mean big 6 pubs), they are the part in contractual privity with their publisher and can in turn forward the complaints to their publishing partner, if they so choose; and c) even if they can’t control price and don’t want to or feel they can’t forward those complaints to their publisher, it’s not a logical conclusion that readers complaining about price to authors makes them dicks. That is an emotional conclusion, not one based on the logical progression of suppositions and inferences. Authors may resent readers complaining abour price; they might see it as rude or obnoxious. But again, that’s an emotional response. Scalzi was trying to argue that his response is rational, while I obviously disagree. CAN readers who complain about prices be dicks? Sure! But I think Scalzi cast a very wide net in his characterization of the reader entitlement issue, wide enough to catch any and every reader who finds digital pricing unfair.

    As long as authors are acting as direct marketers of their product to the public, they will be receiving feedback on every aspect of its content and production. The rights that allow the publisher to produce and price that work were acquired from the author, which makes the author just as implicated in the publishing process. So, if one argues that contacting the publisher is appropriate, why wouldn’t contacting the person who has given the publisher permission to produce his/her work also be appropriate?

    I may be making to big of a leap here to say that most people vocally complaining aren’t complaining because of one instance in which only one book was too high. Many folks complaining are annoyed that a lot of books they want to read are overpriced.

    Which makes what I think is Scalzi’s very strong personalization of the complaining even more baffling to me.

    While some authors do complain about the poor incomes earned through writing, your last question of “why is it reasonable for authors to tell readers how insufficient they feel their authorial earnings are, but not reasonable for readers to tell authors how unfairly priced they feel their books are?” seems counter-productive to me as well, in that it tacitly condones authors complaining in inappropriate venues.

    Counterproductive because you think authors expressing this stuff to readers is inappropriate? I don’t see all those things as inappropriate at all. In fact, I think many of them directly intersect with the issues readers have with pricing and availability of books. For example, authors who argue that piracy is substantially negatively impacting their sales are often responded to with arguments from readers about how books are geographically restricted and/or unreasonably priced. To me, these are legitimate, intersecting interests worthy of thoughtful discussion. I do, however, think some of the pleas made to readers are unreasonable though, which is one of the reasons I constructed that contrast. If writing IS a business, then writers are businesspeople, brands, if you will, and as such, they will receive complaints about their product, just as all brands do.

    My final thought is that your original comments over books as cultural artifacts vs. consumer goods, to me, also feeds the counter-arguments. If both are important, then venues that deal with books as the former, such as ‘Big Ideas’, should be uncontaminated by the latter.

    To me it’s the opposite; because books are a hybrid of commercial product and cultural artifact, it’s difficult to separate reader reactions to one or the other — more likely readers will alternately treat books as both, just as authors do. Where I think Scalzi tripped was in insisting that digital books are not special snowflakes, when the agency pricing model suggests quite the opposite.

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  129. TFQ
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 23:33:57

    @S.M. Stirling: >Their basic approach to anyone but the uppermost echelon is “take it or leave it”.

    >Right. We’re totally free to take it, or not take it. And starve.

    Well — you’re totally free to take it, or not take it and find another way to make a living. It still comes down to choice. I’m not saying that’s a pleasant or ideal choice, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that the alternative to a publishing contract is starvation.

    And along with the choice to write and publish comes the reality that you as an author are a much more real entity in the minds of readers than is a publisher, and unless you’re a hermit, probably easier to reach, and much more likely to respond. It doesn’t matter to the reader in general how much power you have – you are an ear they can reach when they have something to say. You don’t have to put yourself in a position to be reached. But if you do, I think it’s naïve in the extreme to think that readers aren’t going to comment to you about all aspects of their reading experience, which includes not only the content of the book but the price of it.

    Could the reader complain directly to the publisher? Yes. Does that mean they should not also comment to the author? Why should it? The publisher and the author are together in producing this thing for which the reader is the intended audience. Can you, the author, do anything to respond directly to the concerns of any one particular reader? Probably not. Can you join the reader in providing feedback to the publisher about this aspect of the reader’s experience? Of course you can. Not only are you going to have a hard time convincing me that your alternative to publishing is starvation, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that passing on feedback to a publisher is going to result in your contract being cancelled.

    I don’t actually have an issue with John Scalzi making the decision to exclude comments about pricing from his blog. It’s his blog, and all he really needed to say was “I want to keep the focus of this blog on the authors and the content; complaints about e-book pricing are off-topic and will be deleted.” To jump from there to chastising readers for having what he considers an inappropriate sense of entitlement was unnecessary if his only purpose was to protect the blog. Instead it smacks to me of him having an inappropriate sense of entitlement to actually have readers.

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  130. Robin/Janet
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 23:36:19

    @Rebecca: Do you feel the same way about one-star reviews of non-book products that give as one of the major reasons for the review price and, by extension, the perceived value of the product?

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  131. Rebecca
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 00:11:00

    I don’t agree with posting a review of something you haven’t tried just to complain about the price (or about anything else). So if you tried something and didn’t think it was a good value, go ahead and mention that in your review. But I think reviews should only be written by someone who has actually tried out/read/tasted/watched/etc what they are reviewing.

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  132. TFQ
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 00:11:01

    @Robin/Janet: The thing that resonated for me in Rebecca’s comment was that people give these one star reviews on the basis of principle — “I’m not buying this because it’s too expensive as an e-book” — as opposed to experience. It’s one thing to give a one-star review because you bought the book, read it, and didn’t think it was worth what you paid for it. But how is it actually a “review” of that particular book if you haven’t actually bought the book/read the book, regardless of format?

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  133. Rebecca
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 00:17:51

    @TFQ – yes, that’s what I meant. When I read a review I want to read experience of people who have actually eaten the food, or read the book, or watched the movie, etc. It’s like the difference between a restaurant “review” that says “I haven’t ever eaten at this restaurant because I will never pay that much to eat out, no matter what” and one that says “I thought the food was not worth the price. The portions were very small and the service was poor. The food tasted the same as similar cheaper restaurant.”

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  134. Robin/Janet
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 00:30:04

    @TFQ and @Rebecca: I see where you both are coming from, and part of me agrees with the logic in your comments. I’m torn, though, because I think a prohibitive price point is a legitimate complaint against a product, especially if the person explains that they’re giving the low mark for that reason.

    I disagree with the terms of a lot of reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, for example. When I first started reviewing, I was bothered by readers who gave Romance novels a low grade because they did not find them “romantic” enough, or because they disliked one of the protagonists or a device. Coming from an academic background, I felt that novels should be reviewed on their own terms and how they worked with those terms. Now, though, that I’ve been around for a longer time, I see the legitimacy of those other kinds of reviews because they still express the reader’s experience with the book, even though I don’t review that way.

    If the value of a product is not communicated to me in its price, why isn’t that a legitimate reaction, especially when I’m essentially giving that feedback to the product’s retailer?

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  135. Rebecca
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 00:43:13

    See, to me saying “I didn’t like main character for x reason and y reason and this lowered my enjoyment of the book” does express the reader’s experience with the book, and could be helpful to me, depending on whether I like or dislike those characteristics in a main character. But if someone refuses to buy something because of the price, and hasn’t borrowed it to read it either, then they haven’t experienced the product at all. To me things like the Amazon discussion forums are a better place to discuss prices.

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  136. N. K. Jemisin
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 00:53:45

    This is aimed mostly at Jane:

    For the most part I agree with you. I absolutely believe that authors are engaged in selling the products of our imagination and should hold ourselves accountable for every part we can control of that sale process and product, including our choice of publisher. I also agree that it’s logical for a reader to bring these complaints to the author, since the author is usually the most accessible component of the production chain. But it’s not rational to do this — not if the reader’s goal is actually to effect change. If the reader just wants to vent, okay, that’s fine. Authors can listen, if they’ve got the energy to absorb the collective enmity engendered by an entire industry. (Most don’t.) Seeking to change that industry is okay too — a good thing, really. This is an industry that changes only in response to reader pressure, and it needs soooo much change. But the author is the most useless possible venue through which change can be implemented. And some readers aren’t interested in merely venting, or in change. They seem to have nothing less than the author’s career destruction as their only goal — which I hope you can agree is a disproportionate response to the “crime” of having an ebook cost two dollars more than the mass market paperback. But every time a reader one-stars an Amazon review because they don’t like the paper the book is printed on, that’s what they’re helping to do. I’m not sure if “entitlement” is the word for this, but “effective” and “rational” damn sure don’t fit either.

    But this is a quibble. I have a bigger problem with two things you’ve mentioned here in the comments:

    I disagree that authors have no control over pricing. Authors do control the pricing of their books to the extent that they choose with whom they will be published.

    And

    Authors want to sell the most product for the most amount of money and readers want to get the most product for the least amount of money.

    Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’m reading this as you saying the reader-author relationship is inherently adversarial — so even something like the author’s choice of publisher can be read, and should be reacted to, as a hostile act. A passive-aggressive one, maybe?

    Let me share an anecdote. Not useful as actual data, but just trying to illustrate my point.

    I am an author of color. My books contain characters of color in prominent roles, if not as the protagonist. If I don’t do everything I can to avoid it, my work will end up shoved into the back of the bookstore, or the bottom of the search results, hidden away from its most likely audience. And if my career tanks, I know my failure will be added to the collective weight of societal assumptions that “people like me” can’t thrive in the mainstream. That we’re not good enough for the Big 6, or the big leagues.

    So my goal is not to make as much money as possible. My goal is to send a round “fuck you” to all these assumptions and barriers, by garnering and keeping the widest possible reading audience. If making money was all I’d wanted, I’d have self-published. There’s greater risk there, but if my novels had been some of the rare few to succeed, that would’ve been the ideal way to maximize and control my income.

    Instead I made a choice that would get my book into multiple channels of distribution, including retail stores, online bookstores, in audio format, and in foreign markets. But although I’m all about the tech, my goal is also to make sure my books will still be available to people who can’t get online, or who can’t afford ebook readers, or who live in the bookstore-denuded wilderness of post-Borders North America, with nothing but the local library standing between them and total booklessness. I grew up in the pre-Borders wilderness with no money, and the library was my dearest friend in those days; I remember waiting weeks for Interlibrary Loan to deliver me something that none of the local bookstores carried and which I wouldn’t have been able to afford even if they had. I won’t leave those people behind.

    Self-publishing online, even for free, doesn’t meet the goal of maximizing my readership. It’s nearly impossible for free, online-only works to get the attention of reviewers, retail chain buyers, etc., and only people who can get online would be able to read my work if I did that. Self-publishing in print doesn’t maximize my readership, since most self-pub’d books don’t get into libraries. Small-press publishing could work depending on the publisher, but large presses have more diverse distribution chains — something that’s absolutely critical if I want to avoid being shoehorned into the “ethnic interest” section. A big publisher also has more contacts in the retail side of the industry, and deeper pockets for things like marketing. Can’t get read if nobody knows you exist. And in my own case, the publisher I chose is a European company, which I believe has had a huge impact on the number of foreign rights sales I’ve been able to make.

    So while you’re right to point out that authors have a choice as to whether they should publish on their own or with a partner who’ll set prices without their input, I think you’re being a little disingenuous to suggest that authors place their own financial interests ahead of reader access concerns. I think a more salient question is, which reader is the author trying to be accessible to? Which readers has the author chosen to inconvenience/sacrifice, and why? And is it logical — or rational — to get angry at/complain to the author if she has to make that choice?

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  137. Cara
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 00:59:14

    Sorry, keep messing up this comment.

    *some readers…seem to have nothing less than the author’s career destruction as their only goal…every time a reader one-stars an Amazon review because they don’t like the paper the book is printed on, that’s what they’re helping to do.*

    Setting aside my doubt that one star reviews on Amazon can effectively destroy careers (and, God, I hope my doubt is justified!), I’m not sure how this contention contributes to the discussion that Robin started, which seemed to address (how writers and readers should make sense of) the relationship between writers and readers when third parties (corporations) are setting the terms for the relationship between writers and readers…

    As (I believe) Robin is an academic, I’d be interested in hearing how she thinks about this issue in regard to her role as professor vis-a-vis her students. Indeed, it seems to me that as an intellectual contracted to a corporation (here, a university) to produce creative work (here, original research, publications, syllabi, and class lectures) consumed for a fee (tuition) that the consumers (students) routinely complain is too high, Robin might be in a particularly interesting place to comment on what a creator’s responsibility is to consumers when it is the contracting corporation that decides how much the creator’s work will sell for! The analogy ain’t perfect but it’s not bad, either: students, like readers, often voice their complaints to faculty about unreasonable tuition, and, in tandem with what somebody said above, faculty can choose whether or not to work at a university based on how much tuition they charge, just as writers can choose whether to publish at a house that employs agency pricing or not.

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  138. TFQ
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 01:35:36

    @Robin/Janet:
    >If the value of a product is not communicated to me in its price, why isn’t that a legitimate reaction, especially when I’m essentially giving that feedback to the product’s retailer?

    I should probably sleep on this before trying to pull apart my reactions to your comment, but I won’t have a chance to respond again until late tomorrow, so I’m going to take a stab at it before I hit the sack. I hope I’m not missing a big hole in my logic, but I make no promises at 11 pm at night!

    I think you’re saying that the meaning of the term “review” for a retail site is different than the meaning of the traditional meaning of the term with respect to content such as books or music. If that is what you’re saying, I agree with you, and I think it means that people are looking for different things when they read a retail site review. It’s not just the content they are interested in, but the object itself, even if its a virtual object like an e-book file. And in that sense, I think it is entirely legitimate for a review to address not only how well a book is written, but issues such as formatting, the cover, and yes, whether it was worth the price the retailer asked for it. But I don’t believe that price alone serves as an adequate proxy for value.

    I also don’t agree that the product’s retailer is the audience for reviews at Amazon, B&N, etc; I believe the audience for reviews is one’s fellow consumers. So, from my perspective, to say that the price of the book isn’t congruent with its value, when you haven’t actually read the book, doesn’t tell me anything about the book itself. I would feel the same about any review that was only about the price of an object. If you review a pair of gloves and tell me that “I would never buy this because I don’t believe in paying more than $10 for a pair of gloves” — what did that tell me about the gloves? Nothing. It only tells me something about your personal value system with respect to paying for things.

    I’m not saying “that’s too expensive for me to buy as an e-book” isn’t a legitimate response. But it’s not a response to the book itself, only to the general idea of what e-books are worth. And that by itself isn’t useful to me as a potential buyer of that book.

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  139. Lawless
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 02:32:14

    I haven’t read any of the comments, which number over 100 by now, nor have I read Scalzi’s entire post, just what you’ve excerpted, but I take him to be referring solely to such complaints made on The Big Idea posts on his blog where an author with a book coming out explains the ideas behind it and what inspired it.

    I have to agree with him that those posts are not the appropriate venue for complaints about agency pricing or pricing in general. How is “You’re book sounds intriguing but I’m not buying it because it costs too much?” a useful response to a blog entry that’s meant to engage people in a discussion of the inspiration or world of a book? It’s part meta, part promotional.

    Readers who think that it’s appropriate to complain about prices in every possible forum at every possible moment are, imo, acting like entitled children irrespective of whether their complaints are justified or not. Not every forum is the right one for such complaints.

    I’m not saying that authors don’t deserve to know that their readership is being limited by their publisher’s pricing decisions. It’s true that this is useful information for them and might affect their decisions as to who to contract and under what terms in the future. But such complaints more properly belong in an e-mail to the author or other contact method on the author’s blog, not on John Scalzi’s blog.

    Besides, he’s right that the publishers are the real problem. They may not be easily be reachable by e-mail, but last I checked, we still had snail mail. I’m certain it’s not that hard to find the CEO’s name and the address of corporate headquarters.

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  140. GR
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 02:42:58

    I’m not a writer. I buy a lot of books on certain terms – my own terms, that is. I buy books from favourite authors (if the blurb / presentation / price / reviews are balanced enough for me) and I might even try out a new author, on friends’ recommendation. I don’t impulse-buy anymore, and what I buy is not related to what comes on the NYT bestseller list or not.

    That being said I think Scalzi has one point he got right (I won’t comment on his twitter responses that are mentioned here): the blogger / admin can do whatever they want with the comments: allow or block them, according to their own set of rules. But some things should be made clear to someone posting on a blog: what the rules ARE and fair warning about the treatment of off-topic comments.
    Regarding the allegedly high number or complaints about pricing of (e)/books, I think that customers or would-be customers are using whatever means they have on hand to vent their frustration (about not being able to buy anymore or not getting the value they’d like out of their purchases). Of course they could take it up to the retailer / publisher. But the retailer / publisher don’t have faces. They’re “industries”, “businesses”, “organisations” etc. The author does have a face and is the most accessible to the reader, no matter how little his control over the book pricing might be.

    (On a side note – to complete the random analogy pattern I read in the above comments, imagine this: you bought an e-reader from a retailer. It doesn’t work as advertised or you find some fault with it, not retailer-related. Who do you call? The retailer or the manufacturer? Do you go the longest way – try to get something from the manufacturer, or do you go the easiest way, call the retailer and get the device changed / get a refund? I know what I’d do. Note that in this forced analogy, the retailer is the one who “sells” the products – and in book publishing that means the story = author, the “face” behind the book. The manufacturer – the one setting the price or at least the minimum price – is the publisher. Just to make it clear.)

    The “if you think the price is too high, don’t buy it” approach only works on individual level, though. There are no “readers’ associations” to declare a boycott on certain publishers :D (are there?) So to say that to someone who would love to read your book but also needs to pay bills and the like, is like a would-be reader telling an author that if he / she can’t live on their writing only then they should “”get a job”. No side can win this.
    Then again, if the number of complaints are popping up all over the place, enough so that they’ve become a nuisance one has to take a stand on tells something of itself, doesn’t it? If the price is perceived as high but justifiably so, there would still be complaints but not so many that it would be such a bother. The effects are visible, someone should address the causes (and I don’t imply that authors have the power to do much themselves, but they do know the faces behind the “publishers”, “industries”, “organisations” that the reader does not. I read a few author blogs and most of them seem to think that being an author does not involve just having the ability to tell a story and tell it well but also the ability to sell it. Why not “sell” some ideas about how to better attract new and old public for the books?)

    About the rating system on certain sites… I have to admit that I don’t put much importance on the rating of a book, opinions being so subjective. I do trust friends who know me and my reading tastes to recommend something they think I might enjoy… Not so something “recommended” by Harriet Klausner (who’s still on a happy rampage on amazon, with writers coming to her(?) defence for the sake of those ridiculous reviews.) If it comes to it though, I’d rather appreciate a 1-star from someone who clearly states their reason (even if it’s about the false expectations of a complete book and not a one-chapter sample, which is the retailer’s fault and not the book), than a 5-star raving complete lie.

    Edited to add: I just went to take a look at those Big Idea topics… I’m sorry, I must’ve missed the price comments on the first few books mentioned there, or the comments were deleted (I thought it was supposed to happen “from now on”). Are there really so many comments about price or is this just a “thing” to attract visitors to the blog? Like kicking a hornets’ nest. Hm.

    (English is not my first language so excuse any mistakes I may have made, please. )

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  141. Joris M
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 04:04:28

    @ 98 Jackie Barbosa
    “I am not going to argue that publishers didn’t try to do a pretty bizarre end run around normal retail practices when it came to pricing ebooks. ”

    Your point would probably be stronger if ebook selling (or any other digital good) wasn’t almost -but not quite- completely unlike normal retail.

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  142. Junne
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 04:58:01

    Regarding the 1-star reviews about price lowering the general rating of the book:
    does it really matter? I mean, on Amazon I always check the comments because there are so many fake reviewers giving glowing 5-star reviews to crappy books. And it’s best to read the text that goes with it. So if there’s a “didn’t buy because too pricey” 1-star review, I just discard it. I know a lot of people do this too, because Harriet Klausner and trolls like her biase book ratings. Link to popular thread on Am romance forum about this :
    http://www.amazon.com/forum/romance/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=FxM42D5QN2YZ1D&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=TxN1NOOIAUROOH

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  143. etv13
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 05:35:52

    I wonder if some of the differences we see here relate to to differences in genre; Scalzi and Stirling are science fiction writers, while Courtney Milan is a romance writer. Last I heard, romance readers account for a very large chunk of e-book purchases. Maybe the publishing options currently available to romance authors and science fiction authors are just different?

    I’ve said before (probably with tiresome repetitiousness and at tedious length) that I found the assignment of grades and ratings problematic. The debate here about one-star ratings based on dislike of the paper or the price is just grist for my mill. When it comes to restaurants, Zagat ratings give you different numbers of food, service, and ambiance. Maybe Amazon and other fora should consider similar breakdowns for ratings of the quality of the writing, the proofreading, and the pricing/book-as-physical-product.

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  144. Nonny
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 05:57:20

    @Cecilia:
    “As far as not being able to access ebooks goes, if you have the technology to post comments on a blog, you have the technology to read ebooks. I read ebooks on my computer for at least a year before I got any sort of handheld device, and even when I did get one, it wasn’t a dedicated reader.”

    While this is technically true, I’d say it’s not practically true for everyone. A lot of people spend enough time at their computer, they don’t want to spend their reading time there too. In my case, I have a hard time with it because of my pain disorder; most of my reading gets done when I’m laying down in bed because I hurt too badly.

    Ebooks really were not accessible to me until I got an e-reader. And now that I have one, pretty much everything I buy is in e-format, because the e-reader is so much easier on my hands (the arthritis is particular bad in them).

    I don’t really see much difference in complaining about format vs price, because that also lets the author know that there are people who want to read the book but are unable to.

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  145. Ros
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 06:08:07

    @Junne: I just got my first one star review! Someone left it at Barnes and Noble with a comment about the length of the book (40 pages). And to be fair, there is nothing on the B&N page which indicates that it is a short story. So I’m glad the review is there so that potential future buyers know what they are getting. And I have contacted my publisher to suggest that the book length, especially of shorter stories, is always included in the synopsis.

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  146. Meri
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 06:26:13

    I took another look at Scalzi’s post, and some of the comments. Someone suggested what many of us have been saying here – that complaining about e-book prices is not a form of entitlement. To which Scalzi replied something along the lines of, entitled people never think they’re entitled. There’s really no discussion to be had if dissenting views are immediately labeled wrong, ignorant, entitled, or all three. Isn’t it a form of entitlement for an author to expect only the sort of reader reactions he approves of? I don’t mean on his website – that’s his to do with as he wishes. But in general; are only certain types of criticism valid and appropriate?

    FWIW, I have no doubt that his own experiences with publishing have been very positive, as he writes. But whether or not they are representative is another matter.

    @Emily: Whether or not to switch from print to e-books is an individual decision and there are certainly good reasons to stick with print books. I just wanted to say, as someone who made this switch fairly recently, that between the lower than ever prices of e-readers and the many deals you can get on books, to me it’s been worth it – even more so considering the number of authors who are now publishing their backlists and their new releases as e-books. Like several other posters before me, I did a trial run on another device before making the decision to buy. Would this be a possibility for you?

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  147. KB/KT Grant
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 06:29:39

    If a consumer is buying, shouldn’t they have the right to be entitled? If I’m spending my money, I want the best possible product I can buy. Is that wrong to feel that way? If I don’t get that, I look elsewhere until I do.

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  148. Anonymousssse
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 07:27:54

    @Las at 115:

    I mean, how much is an author being hurt by complaints? Are you still writing? Are you books still getting published? Are people still buying? Are you still making a living writing books? Yes? Then STFU.

    Do readers realize how few published authors actually make their living writing books?

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  149. N. K. Jemisin
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 07:57:33

    Setting aside my doubt that one star reviews on Amazon can effectively destroy careers (and, God, I hope my doubt is justified!), I’m not sure how this contention contributes to the discussion that Robin started, which seemed to address (how writers and readers should make sense of) the relationship between writers and readers when third parties (corporations) are setting the terms for the relationship between writers and readers…

    Hi Cara,

    One-star reviews are kind of like ant-bites: one or a few can’t hurt much (unless you’re allergic, whoops, guess this analogy doesn’t work perfectly), but get enough of them and you’re lunchmeat. A heavy percentage of one-stars (as can happen for less-popular or less-marketed books that only get a few reviews) can push a book’s search ranking down. Amazon’s search algorithm is a trade secret, of course, but it’s not hard to tell that when you do a keyword search, its formula incorporates the book’s rating. Higher-ranked books usually pop up above lower-ranked books with the same keyword matches. Sometimes the lower-ranked books vanish altogether, since Amazon assumes you spelled stuff wrong and gives you alternate titles before it gives you low-ranked keys of the same title.

    That has a direct and lasting impact on sales. Per “the long tail” theory (and I read the book years ago so I’m paraphrasing here), books that are poorly searchable for whatever reason will tend to stay poorly searchable, because no one can find them to raise the rating. That first month or so (sometimes the first week) is key. And remember that many consumers look to Amazon for ratings even if they don’t buy books at Amazon. I’ve seen references to Amazon reviews in reviews at Goodreads and LibraryThing, Powell’s, and even in my local library’s catalog. There’s a ratings ripple effect across all retail venues.

    And it really doesn’t take much for a publisher to drop an author these days. If an author’s Bookscan numbers are borderline, publishers will use reviews and ratings to decide whether to offer an author a new contract.

    You’re right in that I wasn’t speaking to the relationship between writers/readers when third parties are involved — I’m traveling and spending time with family right now, so I’m trying not to spend too much time on the internet. (Too late!) I do want to point out, though, that publishers and authors are supposed to represent a business partnership, not an employer-employee relationship or even a seller-buyer relationship. (I’ve bought into the seller-buyer paradigm here for the sake of addressing Jane’s points, but it’s really not accurate.) Much of the way the industry works is predicated on that assumption of an equal partnership. In actual practice because there are few publishers and many, many writers, it’s nowhere near equal unless the author becomes a reliable high seller. But per that model, the author should not represent the “face” of the publishing chain, or the customer service representative, or anything like that. Per that model, the publisher is supposed to take on all the business elements of publishing while freeing the author to keep working on the artsy stuff. Times have changed, and nowadays authors are inextricably embedded in the business side of things — so some of the frustration you’re seeing on authors’ parts comes from the fact that this is a change. This is stuff we’re not supposed to be stressing over — but we do because most human beings want to do something when another person yells, “Do something!” Even if we can’t once the contract’s signed. So that’s just something to keep in mind.

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  150. Junne
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:09:15

    @N. K. Jemisin:

    Actually, the most offensive thing in your story ( I read the blog post) is that it’s clear the librarian didn’t even read the backcover ( because you say there are no black characters in your story), he/she just saw/deduced your skin colour and shelved it under AAF. WTF???

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  151. Las
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:10:14

    @Anonymousssse: I don’t much care. My point was that it’s ridiculous for writers to act like readers’ complaints are this huge cross for them to bear. If they think readers are being unreasonable by ever complaining to them, they should just respond graciously and continue to write. (I do agree with Scalzi on the time and place of complaints, though.) If they want to take those complaints to their publishers, good for them. What’s so burdensome about either option? If readers’ “unreasonable” complaints are truly having a marked affect on sales–which is what truly matters, not the author’s feelings–then I’d argue that the author’s work is all that good. A one star review by a person who admits not even reading the book(which I agree is stupid and petty) is going to harm the author? Are you kidding me? How much does a book have to suck for that to be the case?

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  152. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:16:57

    @S.M. Stirling I’m actually quite familiar with the contracts in publishing and the negotiating power that authors have with larger publishers. As stated previously, once the decision is made to sell to one of the Big 6, money is taken in exchange for control. There are publishers that allow greater voice in the production and sale process (like Amazon’s publishing lines for example) in exchange for less amount of money up front.

    I’m also not suggesting that an author who chooses to go with the Big 6 are making the wrong decision. It may be (as I stated previously) exactly the right decision at the time for the author given her circumstances and what her goals are. However, simply because the decision was right for the author does not mean it is “right” for the reader and the reader voices her complaints to the one with the creative control, the author.

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  153. theo
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:20:40

    @Ros:

    Just a quick side note, but it’s a very rare thing in the product description to not have the number of pages of the book/novella/what have you listed on either B&N or Amazon. I don’t know about BAM. But you should have the option as the author to contact them and ask that they include that in the description.

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  154. Ros
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:28:24

    @theo: Thanks. I see the file size listed but not the number of pages. I’ve asked my publisher to look into it.

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  155. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:37:43

    @N. K. Jemisin As I stated previously, authorial choice preferences one set of readers over another and that preferencing is part of the authorial decision.

    @Maria Zannini I disagree that authors have no control over pricing. Authors do control the pricing of their books to the extent that they choose with whom they will be published. Scalzi argues (as have I) that authors who sell their books do so with maximizing their profit in mind. It’s a business decision. This preferences some readers over others. In the case of the big 6, this preferences print readers over digital readers and it almost always preferences North American readers over every other region.

    If an author chooses to go with a small digital press, they preference digital readers over print readers but also make their books more widely available geographically speaking and often at a lower cost to the reader.

    Thus, by choosing a digital first publisher, the readers like Emily are disadvantaged because she is a print reader.

    I see nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong, in authors trying to maximize revenue from their creative product. Whenever I make an argument against DRM or against geographical restrictions or against price, I am making the argument posting that no DRM, no geo restrictions, lower price will actually increase revenue for the author. I would not make an argument that authors act against their own self interests for the benefit of a reader. That is not a rational or logical argument.

    Authors’ goals and readers’ goals are inherently at odds but that doesn’t make them adversaries but it does introduce friction which is evident in this thread alone. Readers don’t feel entitled when they complain about price, the quality of the book, the length of the book. Readers feel that as a result of spending money (or even their time in the case of free books) that they can speak their experience to others, whether it be good or bad.

    Some authors have a problem with this, like Scalzi who calls those readers mean and entitled. This is the result of opposing goals.

    I’m not sure what self publishing for free has to do with my argument. Nowhere have I suggested that self publishing for free is what authors should do. I don’t believe that. I’ve even wrote on the topic of how I think free can hurt authors in the past.

    In sum, I totally agree with you that authors should a) not put their own self interests behind readers and b) that authors should think about which reader is being preferenced. However, B cannot be done without input from the readers because how else will the author be able to weigh which reader should be preferenced without the reader data points? Which has been my whole point all along.

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  156. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:39:31

    @N. K. Jemisin I don’t mind the one star reviews because it is common knowledge that many authors engage in jiggering the reviews with fake five star reviews. The one star reviews based on price, length, whatever, balances those out entirely.

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  157. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:40:24

    @KB/KT Grant I don’t know that wanting the best possible product for the lowest price is entitled though. Isn’t it just rational consumer behavior?

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  158. KB/KT Grant
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 08:46:21

    @Jane:

    Could the rise in self publishing have to do with it? Self published books are priced much lower than traditionally published books. As self publishing rises and takes on traditional publishers, the big 6 is going to have to find ways to compete with the 99 cent and $1.99 books that the public are willing the purchase regardless if they’re well written or not.

    Consumers are going to look for the best deals in whatever products they buy from clothes to cars to even houses. The same will be for books.

    An example of high pricing is Diana Gabaldon’s The Scottish Prisoner priced at $28 for a hard cover. The moment I saw that price, I decided not to buy. Why is that book priced higher than most hard covers I’ve seen? As a reader I’ve decided to wait until it’s available at my library or the price is slashed in half.

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  159. Lizabeth S. Tucker
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 09:05:28

    I’ve considered this situation at great length since buying my first eReader back in 2006. I don’t want authors cheated, but I also feel that the outlay by the publishers are much less in digital form. At first, when there were few eReaders out there, I understood having to spread the costs of print books to the digital reads as well. But the increase in readers and the decrease in sale of print books should be enough information for publishers to separate the cost listing.

    I truly believe that it is more greed than reality on the part of the publishers. Because I guarantee that the excess in profit due to lack of cost for paper, printing, warehousing, shipping, remanding is not going to the authors themselves.

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  160. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 09:26:37

    @KB/KT Grant I think rational consumer behavior is always wanting the best for the lowest price. The lowest price, however, can be impacted by outside factors. Prior to Amazon setting ebook prices at $9.99 and under, the lowest price for a hardcover may have been $20+. Now consumer expectations have been revised and changed.

    One of the things Bowker said at the last TOC conference was that the rate of ebook adoption was doubling every three months (this has probably slowed) and thus with each 3 month period, publishers had the opportunity to introduce a new anchoring price. The anchoring price is the price at which consumers are introduced to a new product. The publishers want the anchoring price of the digital book to match that of the paper book. I think that battle has been lost. So they are looking for some middle ground. Maybe it is $16.99 or $14.99 (Steve Jobs biography sold for that easily).

    Readers are seeing an increased number of low priced books. They don’t know that they are self published or published by a big conglomerate. Dan Lubert (may be spelling his name wrong) indicated that the average price of the kindle bestseller was falling. I can’t remember the exact numbers but it’s around $4.50 now and last year it was higher. Maybe 6? Anyway, Lubart has recently been hired by HarperCollins in a newly created position. Lubart’s hire happened at approximately the same time that Avon reduced its digital prices to $4.99 for all but a few frontlist titles that they priced at $6.99, still a dollar lower than the print book versions.

    This all seems to point to digital book prices trending downward. Whether this is a result of vocal consumer response through one star reviews and comments and emails combined with consumer action of not buying books that are high priced very often, I don’t know. (Obviously Dan Lubart knows but probably won’t say).

    Is this a good thing for readers? It is only if the quality matches the product however if low quality is all that readers will get for a low price then I suspect readers will move toward paying more in hopes of getting better quality. There was another prediction/survey that I read over at Teleread that said quality was going to be consumer’s number one concern in 2012. The market is mutable, ever changing, which is why collection of as many data points is important in making decisions.

    Prices for the Avon books may increase if there aren’t sufficient increase in sales to support a lower price point.

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  161. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 09:51:38

    @Cara: Re: academics.

    The relationship between teacher and student is more intimate in nature than reader/author. Teachers owe a duty to their students to be responsive to their needs. If curriculum isn’t working for students, they need to change it. If university education as a whole isn’t working, ditto. Authors should listen to reader complaints because it’s good business sense. Teachers need to listen to student complaints because it’s a moral imperative.

    So this touches on something that is too deeply felt for me to call it a “pet peeve”: when people claim that kids these days are “entitled” for complaining about tuition costs, without realizing that college tuition has more than doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars over the last ten years and around 400 percent since 1985.

    Academics don’t hear nearly enough complaints from the students who take on extraordinary debt, and who can’t find a job that allows them to make the minimum payments. A lot of academics literally don’t understand that more than half of their students will spend more than half their lives devoting more than half their disposable income (if they have any) to student loans.

    Whether an academic can do anything about it is a different matter. As an adjunct? Almost certainly nothing. As a tenured faculty member? Maybe a little, depending on the institution and the degree of faculty governance. But I don’t see how the ability to control tuition either directly or indirectly has anything to do with whether you listen to complaints.

    If you aren’t listening to what your students have to say, you don’t understand the structure of the world they’re entering. How can you effectively teach them if all you do is call them “entitled” and dismiss their complaints? Student complaints about tuition aren’t just about asking the academic to fix it (although, why not try?). They’re about someone who is desperate for guidance about how to have a meaningful life in the face of a crushing debt load coupled with the worst employment market in years.

    So yes, there is a special place in hell for academics who refuse to listen to student complaints about tuition because they don’t have control over the going rate. It takes a special kind of entitled–the kind that has lifetime tenure and a middle-class salary paid by the student loans of the person in front of you–to tell someone without that kind of security that they’re “entitled” for being upset that the higher education they thought would help them secure a decent future is instead a massive catastrophe.

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  162. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 09:59:59

    @Jane: That’s a little unfair. The authors who engage in review manipulation get their cadre of friends to hit “report abuse” on the one-star review, and it gets removed after it hits Amazon’s auto-remove limit. The authors who don’t pull shenanigans suck it up.

    So while there may be “balance” averaged over all books, the cost disproportionately falls on the non-jiggerer.

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  163. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 10:08:46

    @Courtney Milan Are we disagreeing over the number of books that have review manipulation v those that have the “unfair” one star reviews? I don’t disagree that there are authors who don’t engage in review manipulation but I think that the number of authors who do outweigh those that don’t.

    There are reams of posts on the Kindleboards as well as pleas made on private listservs like PAN asking for people to vote up positive reviews, leave positive reviews, downvote negative reviews. There was an author who wrote a whole blog post about how if friends and family truly loved them, this is how the reviews should be done (alwayys five stars) and there were a bunch of authors, including romance authors, on the blog post praising the author of the blog post.

    Maybe I am just being overly cynical.

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  164. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 10:15:17

    @Jane: Authors who don’t attempt to manipulate their reviews vastly outnumber those who do, IMO. You just don’t hear about them because they don’t go around soliciting people NOT to do all the things you just mentioned.

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  165. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 10:23:02

    @Jane: I think the silent majority is much, much larger than the vocal nonmajority. The people who don’t do any of those things don’t say anything about it–you don’t have to tell people to do nothing. So that means that the only time you observe behavior in this arena is when it’s misbehavior. To try to calculate how often it occurs, you’d have to think about all the times you aren’t seeing misbehavior.

    I would put the number of jiggerers among traditionally published authors at less than 10%. Most people I know have to sit down and explain to their mom why writing a review that says, “This is my daughter’s book! Isn’t she precious?” is NOT a good idea.

    Of course, this might be a function of the fact that I tend to be friends with people who take a reasonable approach, and so my sample may be biased, but I’ve seen only a handful of such pleas. There are thousands of authors.

    The numbers among self-publishers are…higher. Disturbingly so.

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  166. Meri
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 11:38:00

    @Courtney Milan: I’m in academia (doing research only, and not in a tenure track position). I work at a public university in a country that is not the US, so part of my experience may not be applicable, but I believe there are quite a few similarities as well.

    My experience is that professors are focused primarily on their research rather than their teaching because that’s what the system rewards. I do realize that there are colleges that emphasize teaching, but for research universities, I suspect this is true in the US as well as in other countries.

    I can’t speak as to tuition, as it is not as big an issue where I live. However, I do feel some students behave in an entitled way, more so than when I was attending university. I think students absolutely deserve a good education (even if they are not paying US-level tuition, which has certainly reached absurd levels). They do not, however, deserve to have their professors’ attention 24/7, as many seem to expect, or to hand in their papers late but get them graded immediately, or to receive the grades they want regardless of the quality of their work. Among other things.

    As for whether or not academics can actually change things from within the system – many people I know would rather not rock the boat when it might harm them next time they are up for an academic promotion, especially faculty members who are not yet tenured.

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  167. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 11:49:02

    @Jane: Readers don’t feel entitled when they complain about price, the quality of the book, the length of the book. Readers feel that as a result of spending money (or even their time in the case of free books) that they can speak their experience to others, whether it be good or bad.

    What about the reader who complained that Eloisa James’s free novella wasn’t a novel? Is that not demonstrating a certain degree of entitlement?

    The inherent problem we face when readers complain that a particular book is “too expensive” is that there’s no agreement, individual to individual, about how much books in general should cost, let alone how much any particular book is worth. Some people think the top price for ebooks should be $9.99. Others feel the ceiling should be $2.99. Still others think all ebooks should be free (“information wants to be free”), and that it’s greedy and wrong for authors to expect people to pay anything at all for their work.

    As I said up-thread, whether a book is fairly priced or not hinges on a combination of factors that are unique to each reader and each book. Publishers (and I mean *all* publishers, not just Big 6 publishers) attempt to gauge the “sweet spot” in pricing. Sometimes, that “sweet spot” is higher or lower than it is in others, but no matter what price the publisher decides upon, some readers will decide it is more than they want to pay for that book. And possibly complain about it.

    There’s nothing wrong with complaining, of course. I can complain all I want that the price of Jimmy Choo’s and Coach handbags is too high. My complaints are, however, unlikely to change the behavior of the companies that sell these items as long as there are enough people who are willing to pay the price that’s being asked. When it comes to Jimmy Choo’s and Coach handbags, there are obviously plenty of people who’ll pay what I consider ridiculous and inflated prices; the same is undoubtedly true of books. But ultimately, it’s the collective power of the market that decides what things are worth, not the squeaky wheels.

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  168. JL
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 11:56:53

    @Robin/Janet:
    I’m content to let drop the argument of neoliberalism, though I will say it’s not irrelevant to the conversation, as it is already the ideological basis for many of the arguments being put forth in this debate. Rational consumers (Jane’s words, I believe) are not neutral, factual things – they are neoliberal constructs with implications on social & economic change and with inherent limitations in their effectiveness. But we can change the language of one of individual vs. structure, which I don’t think you addressed in your response (to be fair, my comment was looooong…). Yes, we can complain to authors, and no this is not necessarily an act of entitlement, but what is the impact on structure? I’ve yet to see convincing arguments here that it has any impact whatsoever on prices at a structural level.

    I’m just not sure the question of entitlement can be asked without actively including a discussion of impact and effectiveness, and it seems like stemming that part of the debate is limiting the discussion to one of whether Scalzi’s very particular word choices and arguments are wrong rather than answering your larger question of “why is it inappropriately entitled behavior for a reader to complain about ebook prices to or in the presence of the author?” This is why I think I continually couching this argument within Scalzi’s blog is unhelpful. It’s possible, from the quotes provided, that he was making the comments within the context of his Big Ideas post. You can interpret that he is saying all readers complaining everywhere are entitled, but it can also be interpreted as such complaints, in inappropriate venues, are unhelpful. This debate is bigger than that post, and few issues brought up within it. Suggesting that Scalzi’s logic is flawed by conflating emotion and rationality is fair, but it doesn’t answer the larger question you posed. At the same time, I feel you are committing the same conflation by suggesting that “Authors may resent readers complaining abour price; they might see it as rude or obnoxious. But again, that’s an emotional response.” Emotion may be part of that, but there are other reasons (which one only has to look to some of NK Jesimin’s and others’ comments here to see), some rational and logical, for authors disliking this.

    As for the last question of counter-productiveness, it’s been argued here that authors complaining about the living they make are entitled because most are white, middle-class, blah blah blah, and have other options to make a living (I have no idea if that’s true, but it seems plausible in vastly generalized terms). By complaining about their lot, they are not acting like rational agents in this economy (but emotional ones, as you generalize), and are complaining to the ‘wrong’ people most of the time when doing so in book review/reader-based venues (mine and other’s suggestion). If, as Jane suggested, authors and readers are inherently in opposition, then it’s illogical for authors to complain about their incomes to readers and illogical for readers to complain to authors about prices. In fact, readers would just buy a cheaper book. The moment anyone complains, we are not acting as ‘rational agents’ and we cannot argue logic and emotional are separable, and use that as a support for why readers are not entitled.

    To me, this whole argument only makes sense if we accept that authors and readers are not in opposition, and maximizing profit is not the only basis for the whole reading experience. Authors are connecting with readers in multiple ways on multiple topics, so its not irrational or unfair that readers include prices as part of these debates. Yes, there are better venues than others. Making a gross generalization about all readers who complain about prices is silly, whether it’s to say that they are completely irrational and entitled (in the negative sense), or completely rational and entitled (in the positive sense). That’s why I agree with your main point, but again, I think a lot of supporting arguments being brought up in this debate by those who argue that readers have rights to complain because they are rational, are problematic.

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  169. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 13:06:06

    As for the last question of counter-productiveness, it’s been argued here that authors complaining about the living they make are entitled because most are white, middle-class, blah blah blah, and have other options to make a living (I have no idea if that’s true, but it seems plausible in vastly generalized terms).

    I’m the one that made those claims about authors, and I didn’t say it to imply that authors are entitled or that they can’t talk about income–just to debunk the notion that authors are an oppressed class, similar to garment workers in Indonesia.

    That was my only point: It is patently ridiculous for members of one of the most lusted-after occupations in existence to claim that they are as oppressed as some of the most downtrodden residents of developing nations.

    That is all.

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  170. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 13:25:22

    @Meri: However, I do feel some students behave in an entitled way, more so than when I was attending university.

    I suspect that at least some of this is observation bias. You were probably a good student and a reasonable person. So you never did those obnoxious things, and neither did your friends. That didn’t mean those things weren’t being done–it just meant that you weren’t privy to them. As far as I can tell, the inborn capacity of some people for relentless annoyance is infinite–and I doubt that’s a generational thing.

    As for the rest–surely there are structural issues. But regardless of the degree to which research/teaching are privileged within the institution, or the degree of security that a job gives you, I think people who teach–even if teaching is not the basis on which tenure is granted–have a moral obligation to their students independent of anything else the university requires. You should be paying basic attention to what is happening with your students, and if things reach the level where university education is actively destructive, you should do something about it.

    I recognize that this is a minority view, but we’re reaching a point in US education where people who get graduate degrees have $200K+ in debt that is fixed at a 7% interest rate and is not dischargeable in bankruptcy and job prospects at the $30K mark–if they’re lucky enough to get a job. I sympathize with people who don’t want to rock the boat, but at some point the harm that’s being done to others is so great that the boat must be rocked, regardless of the effect on your narrow self-interest.

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  171. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 13:25:26

    @Jackie Barbosa so now you are changing the argument from whether a reader is entitled when she complains to whether she is effective? I’ve never argued the effectiveness issue. In fact, I don’t know that it is effective. Rational economic behavior assumes that consumers balance the benfits versus the risks to arrive at a decision that nets the consumer the maximum benefit. The term rational has a specific economic meaning that is different than perhaps the dictionary meaing although overlaps. Thus in voicing a complaint about price, I believe that it is rational consumer behavior as the consumer seeks to influence outcomes. The voicing of the complaint may be verbal articulation of her market behavior (not buying) or it may be simple verbal protest.

    Efficacy is unknown to me. As I stated previously, I don’t know whether the confluence of market behaviors such as not buying along with voicing of complaints trigger lowering prices. I don’t know if there is a connection, percentage or otherwise, between the voicing of complaints about high prices and high price avoidance although given that falling prices of the bestselling books at Amazon does seem to indicate that readers are putting their money where their mouths are.

    Verbal complaints are a data point that one can acquire when a person does not have access to data. If an author is not directly in control of her pricing and cannot experiment (do A/B testing) then she has no access to data points about how the price of the book is affecting market behaviors. So the next best thing is to collate and collect reader complaints and not just for her book but for any similarly situated book out there.

    Scalzi’s argument that the reader is entitled when she complains about the the price of the book is based on two things as I read it. First, that she is mean and two that authors can’t control the price of a book.

    My rebuttal was a ) she isn’t mean (maybe in the context of the Big Idea, she is mean but the mere complaint of the price of a book is not mean) and b) that authors can control the price of the book. Beyond that, my argument is that listening to readers, the purchasers of the product, about price is important because it is a valuable data point that authors should consider when making decisions about where and how to place the prodcut into the distribution stream.

    If authors choose not to listen to readers (or as I saw one reader on twitter say that reader voices are like white noise to authors and publishers) then yes, it probably isn’t efficacious to complain. But if enough readers consistently complain and then back up those complaints with market action of not buying, then it is efficacious.

    Silencing readers because some authors or some publishers refuse to listen hardly speaks of a good business strategy. Focus groups,market research, and the like is all done to gain an understanding of the market and how to influence market behaviors. Price is one consideration. Amazon knows this because it declared on its website that its goal is to bring great products at low prices. Walmart sells to consumers looking for low prices. Apple does not. Apple’s products are premium products and they sell on the idea that you are getting a superior product for a superior dollar (although in the case of the ipad, other manufacturers have had a very difficult time providing the same hardware at the same price so Apple could be seriously underpricing the iPad, particularly given that Apple is producing some its own components for the device).

    So to answer your new question, I do not know if complaining about price is efficacious. I don’t go around complaining about it on every review or every book on Amazon. However, I do believe that readers’ complaints about price have made a difference. How much, again, I do not know.

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  172. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 13:35:17

    @Courtney Milan The sad truth is no one is entitled to make a living at any one thing. Not authors, not musicians, not crafters on Etsy, not even lawyers. Heh.

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  173. Meri
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 13:43:20

    @Courtney Milan: I’d have to ask people who are long-time faculty members whether or not they are seeing any changes in student behavior and expectations. I do hear a lot of complaints, but I’ll admit that this is anecdotal evidence.

    I have had no first-hand experience with US academia, but the tuition costs I’ve read about strike me as something that is not sustainable over time, even if students are getting a first-rate education (which clearly is not always the case). At some point, as you note, it stops being a good investment in the future.

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  174. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 13:47:53

    @Jane:

    (a) True, but at some point, if nobody’s making a living, there’s a problem.

    (b) Especially since the ABA doesn’t think people are entitled to employment statistics that reflect reality before entering a degree program, either.

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  175. Jane
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 13:52:48

    @Courtney Milan sure, but entitled? I think the basic tenets are that the laws should be constructed so that you are able to pursue a living wage.

    In looking at Scalzi’s argument about whether readers should complain about price, I don’t think it works under a rational or irrational behavioral argument. Where it works is if one believes that certain entities are entitled to make a living wage from a producing a particular product. A certain elevation of one profession above another.

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  176. Renda
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:00:40

    I have read all the posts; understood about a third of them.

    My basic question would be how would the publisher know they are being boycotted.

    If a book is not being purchased, would not the publisher assume it is because the story/author is lacking so it circles back to being the author’s responsibility?

    It seems like a perfect circle of “not my responsibility” has been created.

    Pardon me if I missed the answer to this in previous 171 comments.

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  177. cecilia
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:06:31

    @Meri: Based on what I’ve been told by former students who are now at university (which seems plausible to me, based on how many students acted in high school), and based on what I’ve heard from friends who teach at university, attitudes of entitlement (in the obnoxious sense) are more often reflected in expectations of things other than tuition; for example, the student who requested a do-over of an assignment because she was busy Christmas shopping around the time it was due in the first place.

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  178. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:09:30

    @Jane: so now you are changing the argument from whether a reader is entitled when she complains to whether she is effective? I’ve never argued the effectiveness issue. In fact, I don’t know that it is effective.

    But Scalzi’s initial decision to delete pricing complaints was predicated in large part on the fact that he doesn’t think it’s useful/efficacious. And I think, up to a point, he’s right.

    That doesn’t mean that I, as an author, am not interested in any individual reader’s assessment of the price:value ratio of my books. Quite the contrary. It’s just that once the book is in the hands of a publisher, I have little to no power to change it. I can only affect future books. Those already contracted and published by other parties are out of my hands.

    When you say the author controls the price of the book, you are absolutely correct to the extent that, at some point, the author chooses by contract to cede the right to set the price. But once that right is ceded, Scalzi is right: the author simply does not control the price anymore. The author can let the publisher know that readers find the book overpriced, but that does not give the author the power to change the price. That decision remains in the publisher’s hands.

    I suppose the essential question I’m grappling with is, when a reader complains to an author that his/her book is overpriced, what does that reader want? I suspect the reader wants the price of that book to be dropped to something he/she finds reasonable/affordable. The reader is not entreating the author to ensure that future, as-yet unwritten books are cheaper, but to make this book cheaper. And that is something the author simply may not be capable of doing.

    Perhaps I am incorrect, however, in my interpretation, and complaints about pricing are more like criticism of other aspects of the book. In other words, perhaps when readers complain about the price of a book, they have no actual hope or expectation that the author can change it, any more than they would expect the author to change the name of a book’s protagonist because the reader has bad associations with that name. But there is unquestionably something about price criticisms that makes authors feel as if there’s an expectation that we can and will act upon them, when in many (perhaps most) cases, there’s not a blessed thing we can do except complain like readers do.

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  179. JL
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:43:15

    @Courtney Milan:
    I think the debate you and Meri bring up is a quite an interesting parallel to the one Janet/Robin raises: what are people entitled to complain about and in what circumstances. I’ve been on both sides of the fence (student and teacher – non-tt and now in a research position, hubby’s tt). Are students entitled to complain about the sometimes exorbitant cost of tuition, debt, lack of dedication to teaching? Absolutely. Are they entitled to an A+ without putting in the effort simply because they are paying for the class? No, well maybe they are but it doesn’t mean they entitled to do it and not be labelled immature brats.

    Same with the author/pricing issue. Are readers entitled to complain to authors about pricing? Absolutely? Are they entitled to say ‘I hate your book only because it’s too expensive and I’m going to trash your ideas and intellectual contributions in inappropriate venues simply because of price’ without being labeled mean or a jerk? Nope, not at all. In both cases, small and incremental changes may be made, but the structure acting against the desired outcome remains intact. Actually, we could even take it into the parallel of why not just go to a teaching-centric college instead of complaining, just as others bring up the ‘just publish elsewhere/just read a different book’ parallel, but my brain is starting to hurt just thinking about that.

    Entitlement has vastly different meanings, and much of the arguments on this post are along the lines whether broad brush stroke is entirely right or entirely wrong. I think this is why this debate is so respectfully heated in this post. Without looking at context, outcomes and other specifics, it’s an endless debate.

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  180. Jess
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:44:22

    @Renda:
    That’s a good question about whether publishers even know about the boycotts. They probably know something’s different about their sales, even if they don’t automatically think, “Oh, readers are unhappy about something and they’re boycotting our products.” However…

    I can only speak for me, but when I tweet about the Big Six on Twitter (recently, that’s the bulk of my tweets) I feel like I’m talking to myself. If the Big Six accounts aren’t auto-following me, I’m sure they’re not even seeing my complaints unless they’re searching for themselves under a hashtag or keyword search. That could be a good thing since I’m not exactly praising their business practices, but if I’m not being heard then there’s no way they know I, a reader who used to buy Big Six products regularly, want something changed.

    Now, if you’re an influential book blogger there’s a good chance someone is paying attention (some book bloggers get jobs at publishing companies based on their blog work) but if you don’t have that benefit of being well-known, there’s no way to know for sure.

    I’m aware that all Big Six and legitimate publishing companies have company contact information for things such as complaints. I would love nothing more than to explain exactly why I won’t buy a particular company’s books because there’s a chance someone would realize, it’s not the author’s fault/responsibility as much as company-mandated pricing concerns. If I believed that those companies read and took into consideration all the emails and physical, handwritten letters they receive (understanding that there’s no way they can respond to all), that would be a better option.

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  181. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:45:01

    @Jane: There are probably some types of employment where I think, yes, that person is entitled to a living wage–groups that perform services necessary for societal well-being, which people generally don’t want to do. I think there will be serious issues if we don’t think, socially, about how to get people to do things that none of us really want to do and that everyone agrees must be done. So, like, firemen. Or janitors. That kind of thing.

    The more pleasant the activity, the less “entitled” the person should be to a living wage. This is not to say that I think authors shouldn’t get a living wage, but writing books is something like playing golf–it’s an immense privilege to get to do it for a living and not everyone who plays will be able to do so. A person who chooses to be an author is choosing to make less money than, for instance, if she instead processed claims for an insurance company.

    Complaints about the amount of money you make as an author are like complaints about how awful it is to process insurance claims: it’s part of the job description, yes, and you wish it were different, but you made a choice and you know, nothing’s perfect.

    Being an author doesn’t come with benefits or security, but it gives me excuses to go to England and read any book I feel like (for “market research,” yes?) and to think of crazy things and even crazier things, and to follow every “what if?” I’ve ever wondered about.

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  182. Robin/Janet
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:48:16

    @Rebecca: To me things like the Amazon discussion forums are a better place to discuss prices.

    I think it depends on the intention of the consumer. If the intention is to give feedback to the retailer, then I can see where the review space would be perceived to be more appropriate. I know I perceive the forums to be a space for readers to converse, not a place for customer response to the product, whether that be praise, complaint, or a traditional content review. It may not be what many of us expect from a “review,” and it may be perceived as unhelpful to some readers and authors, but I can see how someone would think to leave their negative feedback to the presentation of the product there.

    @Cara: Like Courtney Milan, I believe that teachers have an ethical responsibility to listen to students, regardless of the perceived pettiness of their complaints. That, IMO, is part of the learning process that college represents, which takes place far beyond the actual classroom interaction. I’m not sure the relationship between teacher and student is comparable to that of reader and author, except maybe in a responsibility not to plagiarize, lol.

    Also, I come from the Humanities, where faculty are often very engaged in advocating for students, not only in terms of tuition and fees, but also in other issues, as well. My personal observation and experience tells me that faculty from the Social Sciences are often engaged in this way, too. Now there are places where I think things can improve (like in better helping PhD students place in jobs outside of academia upon graduation, especially when the academic job market is depressed), and my experience is not universal. But overall, my experience has been that faculty can be and often are very engaged in student advocacy and institutional culture issues.

    @TFQ: I agree with you that price alone does not determine value. But I do think that readers figure price into their valuation. In fact, one of the things that I think is complicated about this issue is the extent to which readers factor various things into their calculation of value. Many readers, for example, base their view of reasonable price on the length of a book. I am not wedded to that calculation, but I understand it. Others find certain titles — like those from Harlequin, frex — offputting and suggestive of a low value reading experience. Ditto for covers (how many comments of “trashy” do we hear relative to certain covers). And some of these characteristics may be so overwhelming for the reader that they will not proceed to try the book, thus their “review” will be complete when they refuse to purchase.

    As someone above said, no one truly knows the value of the book’s content until after it is purchased, which makes it a risk that some readers just can’t or won’t take. It may be that we don’t want that feedback presented as a product “review,” but if consumers feel that is the only place they can give feedback directly to the retailer, then I think that’s where it’s going to end up.

    @etv13: I wonder if some of the differences we see here relate to to differences in genre; Scalzi and Stirling are science fiction writers, while Courtney Milan is a romance writer. Last I heard, romance readers account for a very large chunk of e-book purchases. Maybe the publishing options currently available to romance authors and science fiction authors are just different?

    This difference may be relevant. I’m wondering, for example, if the strong entrenchment digital has in Romance makes the public dissing of readers who prefer digital less welcome. I’m not sure, though. Interesting questions and issues here to consider, though.

    @Meri: I took another look at Scalzi’s post, and some of the comments. Someone suggested what many of us have been saying here – that complaining about e-book prices is not a form of entitlement. To which Scalzi replied something along the lines of, entitled people never think they’re entitled.

    This is one reason no one will convince me that Scalzi was limiting his comments to the Big Idea post comments.

    When I debated this with Scalzi on Twitter, he indicated to me that ‘entitled readers deserve to be called out on their behavior’ (paraphrasing there, but not by much). I pointed out that applies to entitled authors, too. He insisted that on his site he is entitled to call out readers because that’s his site. His flipping of the word entitled between its two uses (i.e. as legitimate expectation and illegitimate overreaching) suggested to me that he just doesn’t want to hear the complaining and feels he has a right not to on his blog. Which he does. But that fact doesn’t have to rest on the specious assertion that protesting prices makes the reader a dick. By making that a prominent foundation of his argument (he mentions ‘mean to the author’ more than once in that post, frex), I think he broadcasted that this is a personal issue for him, not a business or “educational” issue.

    @N. K. Jemisin: Your point about authors wanting to separate the business of publishing from the process of writing is interesting, because I’m not sure it’s compatible with the nature of the book itself. The reader’s experience of the book is not one of strict separation – readers have a whole book experience that includes title, cover, price, format, binding and paper type, etc., content, length, etc. So unless authors can figure out a way to effectively deliver creative content without packaging that might interfere with the reader’s valuation of the content, I think they’re always going to get feedback on aspects of the book they don’t want to deal with or feel responsible for.

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  183. Keishon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:52:04

    I suppose the essential question I’m grappling with is, when a reader complains to an author that his/her book is overpriced, what does that reader want? I suspect the reader wants the price of that book to be dropped to something he/she finds reasonable/affordable.

    We just want our voices to be heard and for someone to listen to our complaints. Every retailer that is worth their salt that wants to keep customers usually take these complaints to heart. If people are taking the time to complain about the price I think it’s worth the author/publisher’s time to listen to them. I keep hearing about how publishers and book retailers are struggling. Are they really? I don’t see how increasing the price on books will help that situation any if at all.

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  184. JL
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 14:53:37

    @Courtney Milan:
    Sorry I misread your intention. I’d like to blame it on the long thread, but sadly, I know better. Blame rests on my laziness and tired brain. The point that writers have the choice to make a living in other venues (regardless of privilege) has been raised by others in the context of entitlement, and I’ve clearly smushed the two related points together.

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  185. Meri
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 15:05:28

    @JL: Well, I’m not sure a university can be considered a business in the traditional sense. Is education a product? A service? Are students customers, or are they more like junior partners? Personally, I think it’s a relationship in which both students and professors have rights as well as responsibilities.

    I will say this, and I don’t know if it’s typical of higher education in my country or something that happens in the US, too: I feel that a lot of students are not coming to university to study and get an education; they come in to get a degree. It’s possible to do both, but if you’re in it only to get a degree, it’s kind of a different process, and I don’t know if it’s fair to ask the teachers to be committed and go the extra mile when the students aren’t interested in learning much to begin with.

    But trying to look at the publisher/author/reader relationship and compare it to higher education is starting to hurt my brain ,too :)

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  186. Robin/Janet
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 15:26:41

    @Jackie Barbosa: What about the reader who complained that Eloisa James’s free novella wasn’t a novel? Is that not demonstrating a certain degree of entitlement?

    I think it depends on what the nature of the complaint was and how the work was advertised. But even if we consider all that and decide that those complaints seem entitled, how does this make the act of protesting book prices entitled behavior? We can all come up with examples of asshole behavior from readers and authors, but that doesn’t make a practice douchey per se.

    @Meri: I’ve been in higher ed for more than 15 years now and I think there are more fundamental similarities among students over time than differences. College is a time of transition, especially for young (i.e. traditional age) students. For example, I used to get a ton of shocked reactions after students got their first grades, because my class was full of students who got straight A’s in high school. Then they come to university and the grade distribution means they will not all get A’s. So you field a ton of questions and complaints and students learn to adjust to the different system, and, hopefully excel.

    @JL: Why don’t you explain why you think the argument rests on neoliberalism, because I’m not at all sure I agree with you about that. But even if I take your assertion that consumers do not always act in a rational way, isn’t that itself a rational expectation (i.e. that consumers will not always act rationally), and doesn’t it put us back into exactly the same place?

    re. impact, I think there is evidence that reader complaints are having an effect. See here: http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/thursday-midday-news-and-deals-prices-up-says-dwj-prices-down-says-data

    and here: http://dearauthor.com/features/book-deals-features/daily-deals-december-6

    Avon, a Harper Collins imprint, has been experimenting with price points, and part of their official statement is as follows (emphasis mine):

    These lower prices are an experiment, based in part on reader feedback, and are part of our ongoing, overall strategy on a title by title basis. Looking at pricing is definitely one way to excite readers and grow authors

    To be honest, I’m kind of surprised that the response is happening so quickly, because I think it often takes quite a while for these kinds of institutional adjustments to occur, especially in big 6 publishing, which has been notoriously remote from readers. In fact, one of the IMO only positive things about so-called agency pricing is that publishers are finally getting actual data about reader behavior. I’d argue, in fact, that one of the reasons a publisher like Harlequin has been so popular is because, unlike the big 6, it has done research on and outreach to readers, in part, I’m sure, because Harlequin has long sold directly to readers, unlike the big 6.

    To me, this whole argument only makes sense if we accept that authors and readers are not in opposition, and maximizing profit is not the only basis for the whole reading experience. Authors are connecting with readers in multiple ways on multiple topics, so its not irrational or unfair that readers include prices as part of these debates.

    I don’t entirely disagree with you about this. However, I don’t think it invalidates the other arguments, either. I felt it was important to address the arguments Scalzi made in rebutting his conclusions, so that’s how I approached my post. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other arguments to be made in support of the reader protest practice. As I said in my post near the end, I see the price issue as a shared concern, and you have gone farther here in arguing that “maximizing profit” is not the only shared aspect of the reading experience, which I definitely think is another viable direction of analysis.

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  187. Diane V
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 15:44:14

    Since Borders closed and I bought a Kindle to avoid having to deal with B&N, I have about 50 books that I would like to read but refuse to pay the Big 6 bogus full price. Who loses out? The author who isn’t getting my money.

    I read alot of books and was spending about $300-$350 each month at Borders. Now, I’m lucky if I spend $50 a month (and that’s if I’m buying the ebook version of a hardcover). I have the Big 6 books on my Kindle wish list and check occasionaly to see if they are on sale — I’ve yet to find a sale since August.

    I’ve only bought 3 print versions of the Big 6 books on my wish list — because I got them 25% off at Wal-Mart.

    Could I afford the full price? Yes, but it seems ridiculous to pay full price for an error-riddled ebook when I could get the print edition for 25% off.

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  188. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 16:04:33

    In general a first time author has no say in much of anything. Unless an author has several offers, publishers usually offer a “take it or leave it” standard contract. SOME agents can get in some wiggle room or better terms if they have worked with the publisher before, but if you follow agent blogs, you’ll see that recently, that has gotten harder and harder to accomplish. So much so that for backlist titles, agents have started to recommend authors go through a service or do it alone.

    Publishers have held almost all the cards in the past because they completely controlled distribution. With ebooks, that is not the case, but they controlled expenses, types of paper, format (hardcover or paperback), whether it would be sold to book clubs, foreign rights and so on. Price was just about the last thing the author was worried about.

    The reality is that even if a publisher likes your book (a particular editor) and makes an offer, there is not a lot of wiggle room in the contract. That editor may LOVE the book, but marketing, publicists and bean counters have to be behind it. And the bean counters are not going to deviate from standard pricing just because the author says, ‘Hey look at all these comments on these blogs.:

    If the author doesn’t sign, the editor simply moves on to the next promising book.

    Once an author has established a following more items become negotiable. But again, the publishers keep a pretty tight hold of the reins. These pricing discussions are basically a result of publishers pulling tighter and tighter on those reins.

    It doesn’t make the consumer wrong to “not buy” or to post a complaint about the pricing, but the author isn’t going to be able to do much and as others have said, there’s a time and place. Spamming a blog with complaints isn’t helpful to anyone.

    As with most things, you have to shop with your feet. If you don’t like the pricing of the big six, you have to shop around. Just like the editor is going to do if an author makes too much noise about prices, covers, or whatever else the editor/publisher wants to control.

    Most authors out there are not making millions. Very few even make a living at it. VERY few. Of all the money made on books, guess who gets the smallest share? A paperback might yield 7 percent of the book price to the author. 7 percent. For a better selling author, they might get 10 to 15 percent.

    One of the reasons you see authors going to ebook with their backlist is BECAUSE Amazon and Apple have made it possible for an author to earn 70 percent. THAT is why the prices can be lowered. The middlemen have been cut from the process. So there’s more wiggle room.

    If an author has a backlist and has done the work to upload it herself, (even after paying for a cover and formatting) and that author charges 9.99, it’s a safe bet that you can complain at that author’s site and you can probably make a difference.

    Otherwise, the costs involved are completely different. To go through NY, the cover is going to cost more (artists working for NY command much, much higher prices than an individual is going to pay for a cover). There are editor salaries, assistant salaries, publicists, marketing people, rent, lawyers and healthcare for some of those employees. Not to mention 401k or pensions. The overhead is significantly higher–and NY has to be very careful about lowering the price of books–or they will be out of business. Ebooks still have to pay those overhead costs, whether they ever appear in hard copy or not…or if it’s in addition to. Those things are what keep costs high.

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  189. JL
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 16:12:42

    @Robin/Janet:
    In the sense that much of the focus has been on micro-social level interactions, with an emphasis individual responsibilities on all sides while ignoring structural constrains, and that emotion and rationality do not mix. The reason it falls apart is because if we are to take acting as rational agents to the logical conclusion, then no one would complain on either side, they would simply alter their purchasing/publishing behaviour.

    However, most neoliberal propositions fall apart in real life, too, since almost every economist will tell you that advertising doesn’t exactly jive with neoliberal social/economic theory either. Advertising often tries to convince us that by making a purchase, we can obtain the unpurchasable – love, beauty, family, etc. Same with books – emotions play a part in our purchases and reactions. If I’m desperately expecting Shadowfever for an X-mas gift, I’m not going to be just as happy with a Steve Jobs biography. It seems to me that arguing that complaining is a natural act of a rational agent is neither in keeping with neoliberal theory, at the same time it conveniently excuses all complaining, even if it is at times more emotional than rational. Why aren’t people simply reading the book at the library for free and then commenting on the book rather than dismissing it because of price.

    I do agree that we are coming back to the same place, because, fundamentally, I agree with the main point that readers can complain about pricing without being entitled d*cks. I just don’t agree that because they can and, in some cases, should complain to authors that it is effective and/or logical. In the examples you provided, it wasn’t clear to me that the result was from complaints to authors, but complaints in general.

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  190. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 17:53:53

    What’s disheartening about some of these arguments is the deeply embedded notion in so many readers that the labour of the author is worthless: that if the writing doesn’t arrive printed on paper, then it should be free, or as near free as makes no difference. The primary labour (and most expensive components, if paid for) of a book is in the writing, editing and design. What you’re paying for, for better or worse, is the written word. Somebody wrote it. If that somebody is a full-time writer, they need to eat, raise children and pay bills like everyone else. If paper is what counts, why not just buy a ream of it? I can get 500 pages for less than $5 down the road from me. Blank, of course: but then, according to some hardline readers, the writing is only worth the paper it’s written on.

    I write this as someone who mainstream publishes YA fantasy books – it’s how I pay my bills. I also give a lot of stuff away for free on the internets: critical blogging, poems, etc. I’ve self published a couple of books on amazon that I don’t expect to make a living from, but which are nevertheless available for anyone interested. (70 per cent of nothing is, let me point out, a lot less than 10 per cent of a lot: to make a living you need sales, and I certainly don’t make my living from self published amazon sales). It’s fair to say I have an open mind about epublishing, and am fairly generous with my non-income related writing time. My income, like most professional authors, comes from the books that are widely bought, each of which take around two years to write, and it’s kind of depressing that some readers believe that we should just do it all for nothing, and that our labour has no value whatsoever.

    Eg: “The more pleasant the activity, the less “entitled” the person should be to a living wage. This is not to say that I think authors shouldn’t get a living wage, but writing books is something like playing golf–it’s an immense privilege to get to do it for a living and not everyone who plays will be able to do so. A person who chooses to be an author is choosing to make less money than, for instance, if she instead processed claims for an insurance company.”

    What if a lot of other people are making money from my labour? I don’t want to be a victim here, let me be clear: but there would be no good books and no publishing industry without a lot of hard work from authors, and my books have helped pay quite a lot of wages. And however “pleasant” it might be, it is still hard labour.

    Why is this? Why are some people so contemptuous of the work of authors they claim to admire? Genuinely puzzled.

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  191. cecilia
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 18:23:21

    @Alison Croggon: “What’s disheartening about some of these arguments is the deeply embedded notion in so many readers that the labour of the author is worthless: that if the writing doesn’t arrive printed on paper, then it should be free, or as near free as makes no difference.”

    I think, reading the same comments, that this is a totally unfair interpretation of what the readers are saying. People are simply not saying that they want the books for free. They’re saying that the expense of the production and delivery of print books is not less than the production and delivery of ebooks; therefore, why are many titles less expensive in print form? This is what seems unreasonable to readers. How does that equate with people saying writers’ work is worthless? It doesn’t.

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  192. infinitieh
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 18:30:15

    @Alison Croggon
    First off, I LOVE the Pellinor books! (although I would have loved to find out if any of Maerad’s or Hem’s children would have Elemental powers)

    When I buy a paper book, I own that book. This is not the case with ebook (the disclaimers say so). Since I’m only “leasing” the ebook on ONE particular format – for as long as that format exists – I really don’t think I should have to pay as much for it as I would for a paper book (which I can give away, donate, or sell back to the bookstore for credit toward new books). Thus, an ebook is intrinsically of less value to me than a paper one. Sure, I don’t want to deprive ANYONE of remuneration for their hard work so I don’t ever pirate. However, if one crunches the numbers from the above comment, on a paperback of $7.99, the royalty is less than $1 (given 7% royalty). To get the equivalent from an ebook, the ebook would cost $1.43 (at 70% royalty). Given those numbers, I do look askance at any ebook that costs upward of $10.

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  193. Keishon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 18:31:45

    Why is this? Why are some people so contemptuous of the work of authors they claim to admire? Genuinely puzzled

    I’m puzzled as well, where you are basing your claims and can you back them up with some specific quotes?

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  194. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 18:37:31

    @Alison Croggon: Yup. What she said.

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  195. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 18:38:38

    You DID read the post I quoted, yes? It says that authors have more fun than insurance salespeople, so should be paid less for their work, no matter how successful it might be. This idea underlies a lot of misconceptions in the posts above about authors having “choices” with publishers. My agents have recently been negotiating with publishers about ebook conditions, and believe me, those negotiations (for basic things, like authors getting free copies of ebooks, or being able to proof them before publication – something that would clearly benefit readers – or not having to pay for publication costs, traditionally borne by the publisher) are very hard won. We withdrew an ms from one publisher because they wouldn’t negotiate AT ALL, and I am quite sure that I am in a very privileged minority in being able to do so. Authors have very little agency in the publishing world, and in the new epublishing paradigm, many publishers are taking advantage of the uncertainty to introduce outrageous new conditions that favour writers even less.

    Yes, if ebooks are more expensive than printed books, that may well be cause for complaint. But again, if they’re more expensive than discounted books, think again. Most of the time, authors get no royalties at all on discounted books, which are often bought at below cost price from retailers with market clout, like Tesco or Walmart, so the publishers can get market share and volume. This punishes small publishers, who can’t afford it, and, obviously, writers. Again, the labour of writers is considered not worth paying for.

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  196. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 18:43:04

    @infinitieh: Except that published through a traditional publisher, the author does not get 70 percent. The author ONLY gets 70 percent if self-published and does all the work–cover, editing, uploading and formatting. Not to mention promotion. (or pays out of pocket for these various things.)

    Through a regular pub, an author generally gets 20 to 25 percent of ebook and the publishers are trying to work that ever lower.

    And as authors can point out: For the author, the work is the same. One to about three years on average to produce the book. It doesn’t matter if it is ebook or not. In fact, it’s better for the author if it is because if you resell a paperback, the author sees nothing from that sale.

    But as the author above said, if you’re paying for the story, then that is what the price has to be based on. If you’re paying for a story MINUS resale value, well, then the only way to get that so far is to buy the paper copy.

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  197. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 18:49:05

    @infinitieh: Yay! (And thanks). And yes, $10 seems to me, in my vague understanding, a fair price for an ebook. I pay that with no complaint. And fwiw, I think the ebook pricing of the Pellinor books here in Australia – $15.99 – is too high. (Can I do anything about it? No!)

    What I find depressing is the argument about pricing reflecting warehousing, paper and printing costs only: that without those components, an ebook should cost around $1.99. This discounts the labour costs of writing, editing and designing entirely. (Someone somewhere in this discussion – maybe on Scalzi’s blog, if not here – blithely claimed the money is made on printed books, so ebook royalties don’t matter, as if people don’t buy ebooks INSTEAD of printed books.)

    My personal feeling is that the RRP – if such things still really exist – on an ebook ought to be less than the printed version. What everyone wants is a fair price. But a fair price that eliminates the value of the author is not, to my mind, fair.

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  198. infinitieh
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:01:22

    @Maria (BearMountainBooks):
    Actually, my local bookstore only gives me twenty-five cents for each used book. Still, that’s 3% off a book.

    I figured that authors make their money through the volume of books sold (the part that we readers affect anyway). As long as I’m not pirating, they will be getting their royalties. Now, if the royalty for an ebook is 20%, then the price for that ebook to be equivalent to the royalty on a paper book is $5. Again, what is with the $9.99 ebooks?

    In any case, even though I do have a Kindle, I still buy way more paper books than ebooks and I use the local library a lot, too.

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  199. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:09:58

    @infinitieh: Because it isn’t just the paper versus the ebook. Ebook or paper, there is still the overhead–there’s the editor’s salary, the building, the office supplies, the healthcare and so on. Most authors can’t and don’t make a living off of what they get from a paperbook (for a mass market book, the author makes about 30 cents.) So even if an author is making slightly more for an ebook (let’s say she makes 2.00, which isn’t accurate, but let’s just say she does for argument sake) she isn’t likely to make a living. Why? The average book sells 3000 to 5000 copies. If it takes a writer a year to write a book, she is going to have to write a HUGE stable of books in order to make a living. And believe me, we are all trying to do just that, but since writers usually have day jobs, it’s tough–and sometimes impossible–to do.

    And I don’t say the above as a complaint. My point is that even if an author happens to have a publisher who prices an ebook at 10 dollars and that author is making twice what she makes on a paperback, she is still not making much money at all. So complaining at the author site about the price of ebooks is going to elicit a big “huh?” because the author is simply not making much for her labor, even at 10 dollars a book.

    Also I’m sure that you’re aware, if you buy a used book, the author doesn’t earn anything from that sale.

    And again, I’m not saying this to argue whether you should spend 10 dollars on a book or not. I’m merely pointing out that the author has no control–and is not making much money in either case. (Best sellers aside. Best selling books are selling more than 3 to 5k, but there are not many authors who consistently make and stay on the best seller lists.)

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  200. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:14:31

    @infinitieh: Just to repeat a little, before I bow out: one of the the biggest costs of producing a book is in wages paid to designers, editors, proofreaders, copyeditors et al, quite aside from whatever component goes to the author. They’re all, ideally anyway, elements of quality control: certainly a well edited, well designed book will be a lot more pleasurable to read than a book with none of those qualities, even if these things are most often not taken into account when people think of the value of a book. There’s a lot of invisible labour that goes into a good reading experience, and publishing is a highly labour-intensive industry. Publishers are businesses, and they want to make back their investment. I’m not privy to the cost breakdowns of publishers, which vary anyway, and I have my own arguments with some of their policies, but I do know that for the most part the biggest cut of a cover price goes to retailers.

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