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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. cecilia
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:23:00

    @Alison Croggon: “I do know that for the most part the biggest cut of a cover price goes to retailers.”

    I guess what I don’t understand then is why an ebook retailer can’t reduce its take by offering discounts on all its books. To me this is the most nonsensical part of agency pricing; when retailers (regular bookstores) of print books can offer whatever discounts they wish, retailers of Big 6 ebooks can’t. This has nothing to do with whatever authors are doing, or not valuing the various aspects of producing a book. Why can’t ebook readers complain about that, without being accused of not appreciating writers’ various tribulations?

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  2. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:31:22

    @cecilia: Well, sure. But the author has no say in that. The publishers are the ones you signed agreements with Amazon, B&N and so on. And they said, “our way or you don’t get our ebooks.”

    You’re right. The authors have nothing to do with that. And Amazon was known for discounting ebooks quite a bit. Now they can’t.

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  3. Ros
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:31:33

    @Alison Croggon: Courtney Milan did not say that authors SHOULD be paid less, only that they are less ENTITLED. That is, no one owes authors a living. We do, as a society, need people to do certain unpleasant or dangerous jobs which no one would undertake for pleasure, and so we owe those people a living.

    Authors can earn as much as they can make. Price your books at any level you like. But readers are absolutely entitled to choose which books are worth spending money on, and to make it clear that their choice is at least partly a financial one. Readers have plenty of books to choose from these days and very few authors can command premium prices.

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  4. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:32:51

    That should say, “who” signed, not “yous signed.” Sorry. It wouldn’t let me edit!

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  5. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:33:33

    A royalty is a percentage of sale price, so its absolute value varies. The less a book sells for, the less an author receives. And as I said earlier, authors don’t get royalties at all on discounted books. Ebook readers can complain all they like, and in some cases are no doubt justified in their complaints; but perhaps they could think a little more about what their desires actually mean, in bread and butter, to authors. And certainly some (not all – notice I said some) readers here could make a start by valuing writing as the work it is, rather than as a leisure activity “like golf”.

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  6. Liz Mc2
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 19:45:39

    @Alison Croggon: “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”

    No, it doesn’t (and it was written by Courtney Milan, an AUTHOR). I took Courtney to be pointing out simply that writing isn’t like the kind of job where you expect a certain salary range in exchange for a certain amount of work. People who choose to write are entering an uncertain profession in which some people make a lot, but most make very little and need a day job to support their writing. Like professional athletics. And they make that choice, usually, because they love writing or playing golf. But they should do it without the illusion that they’ll all be making a living at it.

    That said, I understand the frustration of authors on this thread at the idea that they have choice/control. In theory, yes; but in practice, their choices are probably quite limited and not ideal (this contract or none). Another parallel between authors and academics. I don’t see that this precludes passing on to editors, in a polite and professional way, feedback on pricing they’ve heard from readers who see them as the only “person” visible to complain to.

    And while I don’t think e-books should all be free or $1.99, I don’t see why I should pay MORE than print prices (often even undiscounted print prices) for a product which is often NOT well designed or properly copy-edited, and which I don’t legally “own” in the way I do a print book. I think that’s all most readers here are saying, not that we don’t value your labour.

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  7. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:06:51

    @Alison Croggon: Why is this? Why are some people so contemptuous of the work of authors they claim to admire? Genuinely puzzled.

    and

    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.

    Since you’re quoting me, I would like to point out that is not at all what I said.

    I am an author and I make enough to live on off of my writing. Notice that I do not say that I make a living wage; I say I make enough to live on. I’ll explain why in a little bit, but let’s clarify a few things first. I don’t hold myself in contempt. I like getting paid for the work that I do. But I never said that authors don’t deserve to make money, or that readers shouldn’t pay for an author’s work. I have no personal aversion to making millions and millions of dollars–if it starts at any time, I’ll be delighted–and I’m personally happy about the many ways that authors have to make money today.

    But I recognize that I have chosen a job without benefits or security, one where most people scarcely break even, let alone make a living. Those are the facts of the matter.

    If an author says, “But I don’t make a living wage!” I kind of have to say, “Yes, and this comes to you as a surprise?”

    The first thing that should have tipped you off to this possibility is that authors don’t get paid wages. No, really. Go look up the definition of “wage.” And ask yourself, “Do I get paid a wage?” No. No, you do not.

    A living wage is not something an author deserves just because she worked really really hard on a book. My mom has a book that she worked on for ten years, and it has only made her negative money. That sucks for her, but do you really think that she deserves compensation for time spent on a book that so far, only her children have read?

    Of course you don’t.

    On the other hand, I still get royalty checks for a little novella that came out in 2009. I haven’t done an ounce of labor on it in two years–not even so much as a tweet in promotion. Do you think that I should see no income from that, because I haven’t done any work on it this year?

    Of course you don’t.

    Insurance claims adjusters get wages. McDonald’s fry cooks get wages. Authors get royalties.

    If I manage to make a living from royalties, it’s because the books I write connect with people. And if they don’t–if people stop liking my books–it won’t matter how hard I work. I won’t make a living, and I won’t deserve it.

    That’s all I’m saying. Authors can, should, and hopefully will continue to make lots and lots of money in the future. But it’s not our labor that entitles us to make money–it’s the reception of the end product in the marketplace.

    Making a living being an author is a privilege, not an entitlement. It’s an honor. It tells me that people respect me and the work I do enough to be willing to pay for something that doesn’t keep them alive and healthy. You can make money as an author. It’s awesome to do so. But nobody owes you it by dint of your labor. You get it by the grace of readers.

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  8. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:10:51

    I’ve made my opinions on fair pricing very clear earlier in the thread (yes, I agree ebooks should not cost more than UNdiscounted print books. Unless, maybe, they have amazing e-design, with pop up bells and whistles.) My sense of entitlement is this: that if my books sell and make other people – booksellers, publishers, editors et al – a bunch of money, then I too should get a fair return on my labour. And my entire point was that discussions on ebook pricing most often assumes that creative labour doesn’t factor into the price of a book in the same ways that paper, warehousing and other “real” costs do. It disheartens me, and seems to reflect a contemptuous attitude to the labour of artists. The fact that it is a common attitude doesn’t mean it’s right.

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  9. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:11:50

    That said, I understand the frustration of authors on this thread at the idea that they have choice/control. In theory, yes; but in practice, their choices are probably quite limited and not ideal (this contract or none). Another parallel between authors and academics.

    I have the feeling that academic publishing is different from fiction publishing because academics are often expected to work for nothing as peer reviewers and when we submit to some journals, not only do we receive no financial remuneration for our work, we may in fact be expected to pay for the privilege of being published. I have the impression that this partly explains the increasing numbers of open access journals: if we’re going to be giving away our work for nothing, we may as well do so in ways which benefit university libraries and fellow academics, rather than boosting the profits of the for-profit-publishers.

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  10. Meoskop
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:16:26

    @Alison Croggon: That is absolute bunk, and exactly what I am sick of hearing. If we pay MORE for an ebook than we would for a paper book and wish to pay the SAME (or slightly less since we cannot share them) we are in no way saying an authors work is useless.

    It is absolutely infuriating to have the poor poor author anthem start playing when we readers ask the perfectly fair question ‘if you can sell the paper version for this, why can’t you sell the digital version for that?”

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  11. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:19:06

    @Meoskop: See my post above. No “poor author” stuff here.

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  12. Ros
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:24:23

    @Alison Croggon: It may be a common attitude but it’s not one that has been espoused in this thread.

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  13. Keishon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:24:46

    And certainly some (not all – notice I said some) readers here could make a start by valuing writing as the work it is, rather than as a leisure activity “like golf”.

    This statement actually puzzles me quite honestly. I’m just gonna be blunt and say that as a consumer (read as paying you money) I’m not interested in the work that went into writing the book. I care about the end result. Some readers may care more or less about the writing process. I’m not that reader. I’m as unsympathetic as it gets. At the point of sale, the labor and process that went into writing the book is the furthest thing from my mind.

    On that same token, I will give my money gladly to any author who delivers consistent stories that are reasonably priced.

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  14. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:49:30

    @Courtney Milan: Well yes, but the question of the day is: If your publisher decided to raise the ebook price of your books to 13 dollars and readers came and began leaving messages on all your posts…what could/would you be able to do about it?

    It’s not all about making a living and being good enough to sell stories. If a publisher prices an author out of the reader market, there may be NOTHING the author can do about it. The author can commiserate with readers and try to find a different publisher, but for a given book, it’s quite likely out of your hands. And that could affect your paycheck. I don’t think any author here has said anything about expecting to make a living at it, but it is important to recognize that publishers can and do have a very large effect on whether an author succeeds and part of that is pricing decisions.

    (Never mind that I happen to agree that Scalzi loves a good argument and sets himself up for arguments quite often.)

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  15. Meoskop
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:56:54

    @Alison Croggon: You specified that the book must be the same as the undiscounted print book. You capitalized UN. This means in the open market the ebook will cost more, even as it is a less featured product for the reader.

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  16. Ros
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 20:59:39

    @Maria (BearMountainBooks): You may not know that Courtney now self-publishes. So she has already taken a decision to control her own pricing.

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  17. Susanna Kearsley
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 21:27:50

    @Liz Mc2: “I don’t see that this precludes passing on to editors, in a polite and professional way, feedback on pricing they’ve heard from readers who see them as the only “person” visible to complain to.”

    It doesn’t. And thank you for putting this so very neatly.

    The simple fact is, that whatever the reason the reader complains, there is nothing that stops me from being polite and professional, letting them know that I’ve heard them, and (assuming it’s something like pricing that I can’t directly control at that moment) just taking two seconds to click on the “forward” tab, there in my email, to send the complaint to my editor.

    Maybe it will have an effect. Maybe it won’t. But passing it on doesn’t cost me anything more than those two seconds, and if a reader felt strongly enough about something to sit down and send me an email, I owe them at least those two seconds.

    I waitressed for years. When customers complained, they didn’t walk back to the kitchen, they told ME, and I went back and told the chef. Sometimes he fixed whatever bothered them, sometimes it wasn’t fixable, sometimes if he was in a mood I got a little singed myself, but the point is that I was the conduit. I was the messenger. And it would never have crossed my mind to send a customer straight to the chef to complain.

    Why on earth, then, when publishing houses can be hard enough for us authors to sort out and navigate, would I demand that a reader go hunting through fine print for publishing contacts to email when my name’s the one on the book? When my website’s right there, with a nice easy “Contact Me” button?

    Back when I was a waitress, I wasn’t the one who had cooked the meals, and all the customers knew that. That wasn’t the point. And for readers, I don’t think what we writers can do or can’t do is really the point, either.

    I can still listen. And nothing prevents me from being polite and professional. And I can still be the messenger.

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  18. Courtney Milan
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 21:53:37

    @Maria (BearMountainBooks): Well yes, but the question of the day is: If your publisher decided to raise the ebook price of your books to 13 dollars and readers came and began leaving messages on all your posts…what could/would you be able to do about it?

    (1) I would respond graciously to my readers and tell them that I was upset about the pricing change as they were. That would be mostly true, but see (2) below. I would promise to convey their concerns to my publisher, and I would do so–politely–and have my agent do so, too. I’d point out to my publisher the data that exists–very few romance ebooks are priced that high.

    (2) A sneaky, greedy, evil part of me would be completely thrilled, because if they raised the price of my e-books to $13, there would be a fightin’ chance that the books might fail to meet the sales threshold. Then rights would revert to me, and I could release all my books at an even more reasonable price than where they are currently priced. I’d make 70% off each sale, and there would be many more sales. And that would be awesome.

    (3) If my current publisher raised the price of my e-books to $13, she would get what she deserved–which is a lot less income. I think I would have to stop working with her.

    I get the feeling that most of the authors responding here–and quoting things like the price of production–have no idea how steep the digital demand curve is in relation to price. You keep talking about the price of production, blah blah blah, how hard it is to cover costs–but the underlying assumption behind that is that you will sell the same number of copies no matter where you price the book.

    That is crazy talk. The digital demand curve is steep–extremely steep. The fact that your publisher prices your e-book at $15 instead of at $5 is costing you thousands and thousands of dollars per year.

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  19. infinitieh
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 22:45:21

    @Maria (BearMountainBooks): “Also I’m sure that you’re aware, if you buy a used book, the author doesn’t earn anything from that sale.”

    Yes, but since the book was bought in the first place, the royalty had been paid already. Besides, at a price of fifty cents to a dollar per used book, we’re taking less than 7 cents of royalty, at the utmost.

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  20. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 22:53:18

    I don’t recall dissing readers, or saying all complaints were unfounded, or even not listening. The opposite, rather. I did take exception to the idea that my full-time work is unworthy of professional renumeration, because it isn’t “proper” work. I presume an artist who is blithe about these things doesn’t make his or her living from their work, or has a well-paid spouse. Fair enough. I do. Yes, it is a choice, and I’ve been lucky enough to have that choice rewarded enough to make an (admittedly modest) living. By the standards of most writers, I am lucky, and I don’t take my luck for granted. Presumably I am able to make a living because enough readers enjoy my work to buy it; and if they buy my work, aren’t they buying the time and care I (and others) put into it? Isn’t that the value of the object, whether it’s electronic or paper?

    Yes, no one here has said explicitly that authors shouldn’t be paid. Implicitly, however, you are scoffing at the idea that the price of ebooks should reflect the cost of the labour that goes into making them, whether it’s the writer or the publisher. What, really, is the implication of that? As I said, I put a lot of other work out there for free; I don’t have an objection to that per se. My choice. The work that I hope people will pay for actually covers the cost of those free hours. Again, my choice. But if the work that I do for money no longer returns because the price of ebooks has been pushed so low it’s not worth my time to write them, and because readers expect as a matter of entitlement that writers should work for nothing, yes, maybe I and other writers might have to get a “proper” job and give up writing those books. Or maybe we should just not care so much about making the books as good as we can, and pull back on the hundreds of hours we put into them. If authors can no longer make a living from their work, you’ll certainly not suffer from a lack of books; but it will be hard to find writers prepared to put in the labour that makes a book a quality experience.

    Those phantom dollars I’m not making from unsold books are probably as real as the dollars I don’t make from the hundreds of thousands of copies of my books that are pirated. That is, there is probably an impact, but it’s impossible to measure as lost sales. We all know the net doesn’t work that way. But I think the biggest phantom of all is those sales that will spring up when the prices are lowered below sustainability. Maybe in a very few, very lucky cases, but that is hardly the basis of sustainable writing. Hard one to argue in the face of people just wanting to buy books as cheaply as possible, no matter what the price in other respects; but that’s the reality. I’m not so pessimistic – I actually believe in readers who care about writing – but we’ll see.

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  21. infinitieh
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 23:02:22

    Could the view of ebook price difference due to format? What I mean is, I buy mostly mass market paperbacks which do not cost more than $7.99. Thus, I refuse to consider any ebooks over $5.

    However, most hardcovers (most YA books, the category Alison Croggon writes in) are way more than that: “Inheritance” by Christopher Paolinin = $27.99 and “Huntress” by Malinda Lo = $17.99, for example. So, say Malinda receives 7% as well, she would make $1.26 per book & given 20% royalty on ebooks, then “Huntress” should be $6.30 (it is, of course, $9.99 on Amazon). Using that method of calculation, only “Inheritance” approaches the $9.99 mark at $9.80 but, of course, the Kindle version is $13.99. I don’t see how teens can afford books. In any case, I won’t be buying any of these books in e-form although I would in paper form (which I did).

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  22. Liz Mc2
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 23:33:51

    @Alison Croggon: It’s hard to say this without sounding like a douche-y entitled reader, but lots of people work long and hard without getting “professional remuneration” for their work (if by that you mean “supporting a middle-class lifestyle,” i.e. commensurate with the income of professionals like lawyers, doctors, etc.). What makes you think that *writers* in particular deserve professional remuneration?

    I mean that seriously, not snidely. I am guessing that it’s because you think art has a social (intellectual, spiritual, emotional, whatever you call it) value that should be recognized and rewarded. I tend to agree with you. But it’s hard to see how that kind of value can easily be aligned with the price of books, frankly.

    Some of the books I value most, I can get for free, because they’re in the public domain. When I buy a new book, I don’t know yet whether it has artistic value. I’m taking a chance. As I understand your arguments, I should feel guilty for buying a discounted book, even though a non-discounted print book can be hard for a reader to find these days. If I choose to read e-books, I should not mind that my books cannot be discounted by retailers, even when the equivalent print version is, because I am supporting the author. But how is that fair to me as a consumer of a product, which a reader also is? I’m not a party to any contracts which lead to super-discounted books at Walmart. Are print readers entitled douches for buying those books rather than complaining to the publisher that they are not pricing their books high enough to give authors the income they deserve? That would seem to be the logical result of your argument.

    Then piracy rears its head. Yes, the existence of digital books makes piracy easier (it is possible without them). But I, like many digital readers, do not pirate books. One argument I see authors making for higher digital prices (and you seemed to imply this, but maybe I misunderstood) is that it is because of piracy. But why don’t print readers have to bear those costs with me?

    Since Courtney Milan wants to make money from her self-published books–presumably more money than she’s making with her publisher–I assume she is not planning to set the price at a level “below sustainability.”

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  23. Brian
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 23:38:51

    @infinitieh: It’s my understanding most print royalties are based on cover price (and can differ also if hardcover or paperback) while a lot of eBook royalties are not base on cover/list, but net. So I’m not sure how accurate your calculations would be.

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  24. Alison Croggon
    Dec 28, 2011 @ 23:50:02

    Yes, indeed: different markets, different expectations. I am surprised by the price of some ebooks (including mine), and I think publishers for the most part are waaay behind on e-publishing, in all sorts of ways. (Why don’t they give a free ebook voucher to those who buy hardbacks, say?)

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  25. infinitieh
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 00:00:36

    @Brian:
    I’m just using the number people suggested in the above comments; I have no idea what the numbers really are. Still, I think that whereas I do want authors to be paid the royalties they are due, I don’t see how ebook prices will convince me to buy them.

    Yes, I didn’t flinch at paying $27.99 plus tax for a hardcover but Christopher Paolini himself did sign it for me. This is something that cannot be done with ebooks, even kindlegraph is not the same.

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  26. infinitieh
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 00:03:27

    @Alison Croggon:
    That’d be awesome. After all, some books already come with interactive CDs so why not a digital copy?

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  27. Cara
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 00:04:12

    “And certainly some (not all – notice I said some) readers here could make a start by valuing writing as the work it is, rather than as a leisure activity “like golf””

    I sense some kind of disconnect here. Wonder if this could be a difference between expectations around genre fiction versus around literary fiction.

    “I’m just gonna be blunt and say that as a consumer (read as paying you money) I’m not interested in the work that went into writing the book. I care about the end result.”

    So, I’ve noticed this attitude wouldn’t be cool at all among friends who see themselves as real readers of lit fic, arty types, the kind who go to readings. I also wonder… back in the 1930s, say, I’d bet that people would have been apalled had you equated being a reader to being a consumer or called a book a “product.”

    But times have changed, alot of us want entertainment not art. And there are diff categories of books now. Some are marked as entertainment, some as “litrachoor,” so we know what to buy and what to avoid. And people are okay identifying themselves as consumers of books as much as readers of them.

    So, if you’d stop thinking of “readers of books” and start thinking about them as “consumers of end products,” you can see how it seems pretty old-fashioned to SOME people that you think they should care about your labor and your “process.” The end result is what matters!

    Anyway, I guess I think that’s where the disconnect might be coming from. Tho I see both sides of it.

    Janet/Robin thanks for your reply earlier by the way!

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  28. Alison Croggon
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 00:11:34

    @Liz Mc2: I’m buying out of this thread without end, because I’ve said my piece. But seriously. I didn’t say at any point that anyone was a douche.

    And finally: @Cara, the labour and “process” is always reflected in the quality of the end product, whether it’s “entertainment” or “art”. That’s just a fact. But thanks for demonstrating my disheartened initial point that yes, in some cases, that labour is not valued, and not desired.

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  29. Meri
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 00:59:55

    @Alison Croggon: as others have already pointed out, most of the commenters on this post have not demanded free or extremely cheap books; rather, quite a few people have provided reasons why they feel e-books should cost less than print books/less than they currently do. I’d be happy if the authors whose work I admire will be able to earn enough to live comfortably and give up any other jobs – in fact, this would benefit me, too, because it makes it more likely that they will be able to devote more time to their writing and publish more books. This, however, does not mean that I will be willing to pay any price for a book, or that authors are entitled to a high income because they worked hard. As Courtney points out, it’s the quality of the outcome that matters. Some writers might take years to complete a book to their satisfaction. Nora Roberts, I believe, takes less than two months. She’s not successful because she worked harder, but because there are many readers who like her writing and are willing to pay for her books.

    As for the golf comment, Courtney’s point, I believe, was that athletes work hard and yet many will not be able to make a full-time, financially rewarding career of it – just like authors – and more than hard work determines whether or not they will succeed. It’s a question of talent, luck, career choices and more besides, and an uncertain career path (maybe even more so for athletes, because of the risk of injury and short career spans). A person may work hard to become the best author/actor/singer/baseball player/figure skater/cyclist they can be, but it does not mean that they will do well enough or be fortunate enough to become rich (or even financially comfortable) as a result.

    As someone who does follows several sports, I can tell you that I’m priced out of attending certain sports events, too – not necessarily because I absolutely can’t afford them, but because I perceive the cost of doing so as too high relative to the enjoyment it’ll bring me, and choose to spend my money elsewhere. Pricing is important, and if readers feel that it makes it difficult for them to purchase certain books, I think that is important feedback.

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  30. Courtney Milan
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 01:12:27

    @Alison Croggon:

    I did take exception to the idea that my full-time work is unworthy of professional renumeration, because it isn’t “proper” work. I presume an artist who is blithe about these things doesn’t make his or her living from their work, or has a well-paid spouse.

    That’s your response? To mischaracterize my argument yet again, and call me a kept woman?

    Classy.

    I could beat you over the head with what I really meant, just to see if I could wrangle a Hitler comparison out of you, too, but I think the level of defensiveness this indicates is good enough.

    Victory is mine.

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  31. Robin/Janet
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 01:14:58

    @Alison Croggon:

    The opposite, rather. I did take exception to the idea that my full-time work is unworthy of professional renumeration, because it isn’t “proper” work.

    I hope the misunderstanding over that has been cleared up, because no one here is saying anything like that. What some of us are saying, though, is that readers should not bear the burden of providing a living for the author. As difficult as commercial publishing is for authors, a publishing contract is a privilege, not a fundamental right. And while books are definitely a public good, and a cultural good, writing fiction and selling it is not a public service.

    I understand what you mean about not being paid what you believe your work is worth. As a long-time member of the public higher education community, I am paid waaaaaaaaaay less than what I could earn in the private sector. I work on salary, so the 80 hour weeks pay me no more than the 40 hour ones. But I’m still very privileged in what I do. I’m highly educated and highly skilled, and I’m grateful every day for the opportunities I have because of that. Because the fact is that I’ve made a choice to put my labor into public service, and I doubt anyone would feel sorry for me for that choice. Any why should they? I’m being judged on the quality of my work, on which I don’t get a pass because I’m not paid at market rates for my work. It’s the end product that is at issue, and by which my value is judged.

    the labour and “process” is always reflected in the quality of the end product, whether it’s “entertainment” or “art”. That’s just a fact.

    I don’t think this is true, even if it violates what some might see as a certain moral or intellectual justice. There are some people who spend years and years writing The Great American Novel, for example, only it’s not so great, while others can work very quickly and without apparent effort and produce beautiful, profound work. I think that’s one of the reasons we don’t consider the amount of labor that goes into something as an intrinsic part of its value. Now we may be able to measure skill in a product to some degree (although everyone produces a clunker now and then), but that’s a somewhat separate criteria.

    Additionally, with books, the reader does not really know the true value of the work until after they have purchased and read it. So much of the act of buying is on faith, because I don’t think there’s a reader alive who hasn’t been disappointed by a good portion of the books they’ve purchased. Sure we can read reviews and get recommendations, but reading is such a personal experience that there’s really no guarantee. So factoring in how much time or effort the author spent writing the book is not really going to help us take that chance, because we’ve all been burned by books that required incredible sacrifices for authors and loved books that were written in a short amount of time in financially cushioned circumstances. Should we be paying less for books that didn’t take the author a lot of time and labor to produce? Doesn’t even thinking about that conflate the book and the author, when readers are often being admonished for not judging the book on its own terms?

    One thing about so-called agency pricing is that it announced to readers that digital books were going to be treated differently *entirely based on the format,* not on the creative content. And it’s a format that requires reader to abdicate one of their own intellectual property rights. Because just as authors have those rights, so do readers, and unlike authors, we’re not getting paid for the rights we’re abdicating. So all those unromantic aspects of the book’s format are implicitly connected to reader responses to so-called agency pricing, because the scheme itself is all about those aspects of the book. Does that mean readers don’t value the creative content of the book or think authors shouldn’t be paid for their work? No. But it does mean that readers are going to be concerned with the format and production of a book, because that’s the basis on which we’re being asked to pay more.

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  32. Robin/Janet
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 01:32:13

    @JL: 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.

    Okay, but you still haven’t answered my question about what’s particularly neo-liberal about all of this. I mean, neo-liberalism’s emphasis on global deregulation puts even more responsibility on the individual consumer because of the lack of regulation and investment in the public good (I love Albert O. Hirschman’s discussion of the economic value of the public good in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty). I’m not sure that’s a theoretical principle as much as a practical necessity in the face of the deregulation.

    One of the more interesting things to me about traditional commercial publishing is that IMO those pubs have historically functioned as if they are natural monopolies, and have not built their business model on the kinds of efficiencies that maximize healthy market competition. And ironically, now that their inefficiency has imperiled both their short-term and long-term viability, they’ve created a pricing model that’s landed them in the soup with both the European Commission and the DOJ for possible price fixing. So I’m not sure what economic theories are coherently at work in all of this, but I’m particularly uncertain how consumer complaints about price, which I think have pretty much existed throughout our nation’s economic history, fit into your neo-liberal analysis such that they are illegitimate in some way. I don’t know one person who hasn’t complained about the price of meat to the butcher or kvetched about the price of cable tv to their cable provider, or made a disparaging comment about the price of gas to the person collecting money at the gas station, etc. I think, in fact, it’s one of the most common (even “natural,” although I tend to dislike that word in connection with socially conditioned behavior) consumer actions, especially in times of economic difficulty and regardless of whether one can actually afford the goods or services that catalyze the complaint.

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  33. Robin/Janet
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 01:37:58

    @Meri: Your comment reminds me, too that many of the readers who frequent these online venues are hardcore book purchasers — we are the folks who are buying dozens, perhaps hundreds of books a year, which means that we’re already expressing our conviction that creative content has value in the many dollars we are spending on books. Would authors prefer we purchase fewer books with that discretionary income in order to pay higher prices? I can hardly imagine so.

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  34. Nadia Lee
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 01:40:13

    @Alison Croggon:

    My sense of entitlement is this: that if my books sell and make other people – booksellers, publishers, editors et al – a bunch of money, then I too should get a fair return on my labour.

    But isn’t that between you and your publisher as the latter pays you whatever royalty per contract you signed? I don’t understand why somehow it’s all reader’s fault that you aren’t getting your fair share. Nobody said authors should write for free, while publishers and retailers make tons of money off of your books. I don’t follow your logic.

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  35. eggs
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 02:44:45

    234 comments? And there I was, bitching about having nothing to read …

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  36. Jane
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 07:33:38

    @Cara That makes a lot of sense to me. I do view books as interchangeable with other forms of entertainment. To me they really are just another product.

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  37. Meoskop
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 07:42:46

    @Alison Croggon: Cara did not prove your point. I don’t know where you’re getting the version of this comment thread apparently playing for you, but it is not based in the words people have used.

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  38. Sandia
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 08:28:26

    I think what is ironic about Alison Croggon’s defense of the Big 6 ebook agency pricing practice is that her books don’t look to be sold under any sort of agency agreement at Amazon. Amazon currently does discount her ebooks to a price point that I as a consumer of books feels is a very fair price. If I liked the first book, it would have induced me to buy more.

    But I keep seeing from her that she thinks ebook consumers expect books to be priced at $1.99 or free. No one other than her has said that in this thread.

    As a consumer of ebooks, I just want to be charged a fair price. I want to maintain my relationship with my retailer (read Amazon here) – who probably generate hundreds of terabytes of data daily on consumer behavior.

    Publishers aren’t in the same business. I don’t expect that they would have the ability to really look at market pricing with the same level of detail that a retailer is expected to. This is where I think the whole problem consumers have with Big 6 agency pricing comes in.

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  39. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 09:35:18

    @Courtney Milan: Oh, no, I am aware of price curves. I was merely sticking to one point so as to not go too far down a rabbit trail.

    Readers do not place the same value on a digital copy as they do paper. Whether that is wrong or right from a production standpoint doesn’t really matter; this is the perception. I don’t really think there is a way to change it (and I’m not certain it even needs to be changed.)

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  40. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 09:49:48

    I would also agree (though slightly OT) that publishers do make the bulk of profit to the (somewhat) exclusion of the writer. The writer has generally been pretty low (if not last) on the totem pole. Published controlled the cards and they loved that. What has changed is distribution. Amazon, Apple and so on have made it possible for the reader to go directly to the reader, the real customer in all of this.

    I fully believe it’s important to support your favorite authors if they attempt to go direct and price reasonably. But do be aware that publishers are already taking steps to make it harder on the writer to do so. One author had a signed contract and when she put out a different book on her own, the publisher shouted “foul” and cancelled her contract under the argument that she had a no-compete clause. By putting out her own work, they claim she is competing against the title they intended to publish.

    So as a reader, I support with my dollars. I try to buy good stuff at reasonable prices and avoid the higher priced stuff. It’s not always possible with favorite authors and my behavior isn’t much different than it always has been (for example, my favorite author, Patricia Briggs, just went hardback with her next Alpha and Omega book. I’ll be waiting for the paperback. I can’t afford hardback prices, even discounted ones. I hate to buy used because then she gets nothing.)

    There is nothing wrong with speaking out, but I still think it’s important not to spam the author blogs with tedious and repetitive comments. Take’m to the publisher whenever possible or at least complain in both places!

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  41. Stevie
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 13:34:11

    @Robin/Janet:

    ‘Would authors prefer we purchase fewer books with that discretionary income in order to pay higher prices? I can hardly imagine so.’

    I really think you need to think, rather than imagine; of course authors would prefer that we purchased fewer books at a higher price, provided they were the authors whose books were being bought. You can hardly expect authors to want to subsidise other authors; this is, after all, a market transaction…

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  42. Author on Vacation
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 16:15:30

    @Alison Croggon:

    But if the work that I do for money no longer returns because the price of ebooks has been pushed so low it’s not worth my time to write them, and because readers expect as a matter of entitlement that writers should work for nothing, yes, maybe I and other writers might have to get a “proper” job and give up writing those books. Or maybe we should just not care so much about making the books as good as we can, and pull back on the hundreds of hours we put into them. If authors can no longer make a living from their work, you’ll certainly not suffer from a lack of books; but it will be hard to find writers prepared to put in the labour that makes a book a quality experience.

    The bottom line: the best talent will always seek the best reward. Why? Because it can.

    If Betty Bestseller earns more money as an accountant than as an author, she will invest greater time and effort in her accounting work. In fact, the less authors earn, the more likely they are to seek alternative careers featuring more rewarding opportunities.

    If folks want to pay $1 for every book ever written, they’d best start reducing their expectations in terms of quality content.

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  43. infinitieh
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 16:49:28

    @Author on Vacation: “If folks want to pay $1 for every book ever written, they’d best start reducing their expectations in terms of quality content.”

    Only for ebooks. Paper copies of the same books are worth more. Between DRM and the various ebook formats, I am not convinced that the ebooks I currently have are not going to go the way of the videocassettes, laserdiscs, and HD-DVD. What is the worth of a story I can NO LONGER READ? This will NEVER be a problem with a paper book. Yes, the time the author and the publisher put into a book is the same but to me, the reader, the value of the ebook is waayyyyy less than that of a paper book. So just keep printing.

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  44. becca
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 18:05:48

    I don’t think anyone here is saying that ebooks should only cost $1. I’m perfectly willing to pay $4 or $5 for an ebook of a novel – just did of all the Courtney Milan books, in fact. What I’m not willing to do is pay $7.99, the same price as a MMPB, or more for an author’s backlist titles.

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  45. Author on Vacation
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 18:13:11

    @becca:

    Then don’t pay it.

    Everybody who doesn’t want to pay $X for a particular book or books, don’t pay.

    It’s that simple.

    I’ve passed on ebooks I consider overpriced. Yes, it bugs me, but I do without it.

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  46. Robin/Janet
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 18:29:42

    @Author on Vacation: But why should we take our shafting quietly? This is NOT about valuing books highly enough, because we all know that many of the greatest works of literature are available for FREE in digital format. When you pay for a paper copy of a work in the public domain, you are not paying the author for their creative content.

    With so-called agency pricing, we are being asked to pay more for fewer intellectual property rights, poor editing and formatting quality, and the limiting presence of DRM. And we’re being asked to pay more purely because of the format in which we want to read the book, NOT because the content has more value.

    I’d be willing to bet that most of the readers who complain about digital pricing are relatively voracious readers and book buyers. Which means they we’re already paying a lot of $$ for creative content. In fact, I’ve seen many readers (myself included) indicate that a single dollar reduction from the undiscounted MMPB price for a digital book will induce them to buy.

    Authors and readers should be partners in this endeavor, because we’re both losing out with so-called agency pricing. And sending readers to publishers to complain is like giving a New York tourist a map of Seattle and telling her to use it to get to the Empire State building. The directions are wrong, the destination virtually unreachable by the means given, and the person is going to be mighty frustrated and pissed after trying to negotiate the trip.

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  47. becca
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 18:43:12

    @Author on Vacation: That’s just it – I don’t pay it. But I want *someone* to know that the reason I’m not trying this book, this new-to-me author, isn’t because of any virtue or lack there of in the work itself, but because the pricing is prohibitive. If we’re not to tell the authors, and the publishers ignore us, who *do* we tell?

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  48. Maili
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 18:55:40

    @Author on Vacation: But wouldn’t author and their involved parties believe that poor sales may be due to author’s quality of work when in fact the price is the biggest barrier? I think that may be the reason why some readers feel it’d be better to let author know. They have an interest in her work, but the price is an issue.

    Edited: I didn’t see Becca’s comment above. Sorry for being repetitive with this point.

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  49. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 19:40:15

    @infinitieh: I’ll pay the same price for ebook as a paperback. If both are available for 7.99, I’ll take the ebook. The convenience of downloading and not waiting beats having to put in an order or go to the store and get it for me. I won’t, however, pay 10.99 for the ebook when the paper book is available NEW for 7.99 or less.

    The convenience is an added feature that offsets the “can’t resell” thing for me. So I’ll pay the same price I’d consider paying for paper, but not more.

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  50. JL
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 22:06:29

    @Robin/Janet:
    The points I mentioned are the absolute core of neoliberalism as a social theory, as any economic sociologist would argue. Neoliberalism is one of the few economic ideologies that actively tries to naturalize and erase its implicit social values. I’m not suggesting that neoliberalism doesn’t reinforce the arguments around why e-books should be cheaper or not – I’m happy to leave that to people with more knowledge than I, though from a lay perspective, I’m as confused as anyone why they aren’t cheaper. I’m making my point in reference to the question that sparked this post around are readers unjustly entitled if they complain to authors who have little control over prices. Neoliberalism itself, as a political, economic, and social system, has inherent contradictions, including things such as complaining, as advertising, and so forth. These same contradictions expose themselves in arguments that the author has control over whether or not to publish with big 6 publishers (or whoever’s over charging). Similarly, the notion that books are more a market product that cultural artifact (which you don’t specifically say but the thrust of discussion around legitimizing entitlement is on the sellable product not the cultural artifact) and arguing that rational arguments are inconsistent and oppositional to emotional ones (which, as feminist sociologist, I do cringe at), is inherently neoliberal. I recognize that you were trying to show that this was the original structure of Scalzi’s argument, but rather than break out of it, I think we are still stuck within this framework when we deny that readers can be legitimately entitled at the same time as being mean.

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  51. Alexb
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 23:25:27

    The most interesting conversation attached to the thread on Whatever was a long discussion on the difference in cost between print and electronic formats.
    I’ll admit that my thoughts on the price of ebooks had been rather iffy about pricing them the same. I know that electronic format completely skips a list of costs that only apply to physical production, what I don’t know is how much that difference is. I’ve since found numerous sources that say the difference isn’t all that significant. At this point I’m more concerned with a throwaway comment that implied that authors are not compensated equally by format.

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  52. Kaetrin
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 05:45:09

    The thing that strikes me is that if an ebook were $15 and I therefore decided not to buy it and many others did the same, if the author was a new author, then maybe the publisher would decide, “hey, this author’s books aren’t selling so we’re not going to give him/her another contract or we’re going to pay less money from now on.” If the author had evidence, in the form of numerous contacts saying “I was interested in buying your book but it was too expensive especially for a new to me author” then maybe they’d have something to negotiate with next time or, something to encourage them to try with a different publisher or maybe even go the self publishing route. Why would an author NOT want that feedback?

    I know for myself, I’m not going to spend $15 on an ebook, and certainly not one from an author I’ve never previously tried. I’d rather buy 3 books for that money and ‘spread the risk’.

    Like many commenters on this thread, I spend a lot of money on books. I’m happy to pay for them and I don’t begrudge the author his/her royalties. But I don’t want to pay more than paperback price for an ebook and I don’t think it makes me “entitled” or a “dick” to say so (although I do agree there is a time and a place to do it).

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  53. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 08:00:04

    @Alexb: Authors at this point (if with a traditional large publisher) usually make more percentage-wise on ebooks. Publishers never thought eformats would take off and neglected to even PRODUCE the books for a long time. Now, a lot of negotiation is going on. It’s hard to pin a moving target, but I’m hearing that generally authors get 20 to 25 percent of an ebook and the average for a mass market is 7 to 10. (Royalties are usually tiered such that an author gets the lower amount for the first x copies sold at regular price and then gets bumped to a second, third and even fourth amount for x, z and zz.)

    One of the publishers, who didn’t have ebook royalties specified in some contracts attempted to just pay the typical paperback royalty…that went over…not so great.

    Kaetrin, if a book doesn’t sell, that is not a good place to be in negotiations, even if there is a good reason for it. It might help the author keep their agent, but bad pricing or not, the publisher isn’t likely to listen very hard. With paperbacks and hardbacks, the publisher will do what is called “remaindering” — they will discount the books heavily to get rid of the inventory, but the author does not get any money from those sales. These are the sales you seen in B&N and other retailers where they are on a large bin or shelf near the front, are heavily discounted and often have a black mark on the pages across the top or side of the book.

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  54. Jane
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 08:27:00

    @Maria (BearMountainBooks) Maria, I really appreciate you commenting here but I have to tell you that many of the things that you have shared, our readers already know. We’ve discussed royalties, remaindering, discounting, for many many years. So please don’t assume the readers (and authors) here don’t have a baseline knowledge of the business.

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  55. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 12:47:03

    @Kaetrin: I know for myself, I’m not going to spend $15 on an ebook, and certainly not one from an author I’ve never previously tried.

    I won’t even spend that on a trade paperback from an author I’m not familiar with. I also won’t buy anything in hardcover/at hardcover prices, no matter how much I love the author’s work.

    I’m not trying to argue that $15 is not an unreasonable price for most ebooks or that ebooks should be not typically be priced lower than the cheapest print version of the same book. I agree wholeheartedly with both those propositions. I don’t necessarily agree, however, that there’s some absolute dollar value that a digital book is “worth”. I cannot say, for myself, that any *particular* ebook might *not* be worth $15 to me. For example, I paid $7.99 for the digital version of Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke. I thought it was horribly overpriced, but since I couldn’t FIND a print version anywhere, I bought the ebook despite what I perceived to be the unreasonable price. I can now say that not only was that book worth every penny I paid for it, I would happily pay more if I had to.

    Yes, there are limitations to what you can do with a digital book compared to what you can do with a print book that may diminish their perceived value, but there are also quite a lot of advantages to them that could equally be said make them more valuable than print books–e.g., no need to go to a store to buy them or wait for them to be delivered if you order online, no physical shelf space required to store them, you can carry hundreds of books anywhere you go, and you’re pretty unlikely to leave your books behind on the train or in a hotel (the world is littered with print books I’ve accidentally left behind over the years).

    None of these positives necessarily outweighs entirely the downsides (particularly the issue of readability should the format/device go out of use), but I don’t think it follows that there are ONLY downsides to digital in comparison to print or that there aren’t some “value-added” features of the digital format. There’s got to be a reason digital book sales are taking off relative to print. If people really found digital books to be worth so much less in comparison to print, they wouldn’t be switching to digital at such a phenomenal rate.

    Again, none of this is to say that I don’t *care* or want to know that readers find my books overpriced in digital format. By all means, if you want to buy my books but feel they’re not worth the cost, let me know! I’ll certainly commiserate with you and pass your concerns along to my publishers. (Although, in the case of my front list, the publisher is me, so you’re killing two birds with one stone by letting me know.) If I can, I’ll even get you a copy of the book you want for free. I just don’t always have the power to do so.

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  56. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 15:51:30

    @Jane: Sorry about that. I was trying to clear up the comment made above: “At this point I’m more concerned with a throwaway comment that implied that authors are not compensated equally by format.” But I went on way too long and ran off the rails with detail.

    I’ve been a visitor of the site on several occasions so I know ya’ll are well-read–in the industry and the books.

    Have a Happy New Year!

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  57. Author on Vacation
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 16:29:29

    @ Becca and Maili:

    I don’t consider sales figures evidence an author’s work is “good” or “bad.” IMHO, there are bestsellers that qualify as absolute garbage in terms of technical and creative quality. Some of the greatest books never sold well. Heck, I’ve read books I considered “great” in terms of technical composition, style, and imaginative quality but I still did not always like the book because it didn’t suit my tastes.

    The publishing industry (if it wishes to survive) has a duty to investigate its customers.and satisfy those customers. If publishers doesn’t make customer satisfaction a priority, they will sell fewer books. It’s that simple. A merchant who doesn’t value my business doesn’t receive my business.

    Meanwhile, authors can seek other options to publish their work, but if these options aren’t profitable to the authors, the most versatile and talented authors will move into fields where they command greater rewards.

    Quality costs. It always has.

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  58. cecilia
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 17:03:43

    @Author on Vacation: “IMHO, there are bestsellers that qualify as absolute garbage in terms of technical and creative quality….Quality costs. It always has.”

    Apparently, because readers can’t judge what they’re getting until they buy it, crap also costs.

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  59. Kaetrin
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 17:18:47

    @Jackie Barbosa: I don’t believe I referred to “worth” in my comment. Until I’ve actually read a book I can’t judge it’s worth to me. I only indicated what I’m prepared to pay and they are not the same thing.

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  60. Hell Cat
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 19:07:02

    @ Courtney Milan

    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.

    I found Unlocked for free on Amazon and purchased it based on reviews on websites like DA. I might have previously purchased another book but I can’t say because if you read 6-7 books a week, you sometimes lose authors along the way. Because of Unlocked, I just purchased the other Un series titles and plan on buying more later. I have a Nook, so I hit B&N’s store and was pleasantly surprised at the price.

    As a reader/consumer, which are sometimes one in the same and other times not, I appreciate the fact you’re willing to try and let others reach your books by listening to complaints outside the stories themselves. That puts you on a higher level than some authors because I know you’re paying attention. No, you can’t change everything, or sometimes anything, but you’re willing to try.

    You’ve reasonably pointed out the flaws in Scalzi argument in a very logical position from an author’s standpoint. I realize yours is not the total authorship experience but it might not be as singular, either. I buy books from a variety of prices. I have a lot of the free books in order to give other authors chances. And then I buy. Sometimes they’re Big 6, self-published, or in between. It all depends on a) my monetary funds, b) my interest, and c) my enjoyment. I’ve bought some books that were priced higher than print books, and that turned me off authors I -did- like because I couldn’t afford them. Occasionally I tell an author that I found to be very good in an effort to let them know it had nothing to do with their writing skills, and everything to do with my limited choices.

    If I am entitled, then so be it. Just as I’m entitled to change service, I may not. This isn’t a monochoice cable company based on location. There are more options, more things I can support as I see fit, and I AM entitled to that. And an author is entitled to not listen a bit. If that’s the case, it’s an easy thing to say “Okay, that’s one thing I need to consider.” But I don’t think entitled is the proper word, either. It tends to be used negatively in the discussion. Maybe a better word would be wary. The publishing world seems to have shaken some readers faith and they’re wary to buy a book for 6-7 dollars.

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  61. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity rings out the old year
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 19:17:01

    [...] in Darkness and Dear Author on the “entitled” [...]

  62. infinitieh
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 19:20:24

    I agree with @Kaetrin. I figured I’d put my two cents worth about what I would and would not pay for an ebook as opposed to a paper book. Since I’ve never complained to an author about it or to put that as a consideration for a review, I thought this would be as good a neutral place as any to voice my book purchasing habits.

    On the other hand, I do feel a bit of a rant coming on: yes, I do feel “entitled” in some ways. This is MY money and if I rather not pay more than $2.99 for an ebook, I don’t see why I should be made to feel GUILTY about it. As for not valuing the work that authors and publishers put into a book, well, as someone who has been under-employed for years, thanks to this economy, I must admit I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy. Yes, you all should be able to make enough money to live but SO DO I. And guess what? As much as I enjoy your books, MY living expenses come first. Why should I pay $7.99 for an ebook when I could pay less than $6 for the paper version? I don’t need to read it that soon; I could wait. Or even put in a request at the local library and read it FOR FREE although I’d have to wait months to do so. Now, I’d be the first to acknowledge the convenience of an ebook – this was how I started reading romances in the first place, through an ebook I borrowed from my local library while I was sick in bed – but TO ME, the additional $2+ is just not worth it.

    (then there was the time my laptop died, taking all my ebooks with it, and the site through which I bought my ebooks refused to let me download them again – though the situation was finally cleared up months later – this probably did not endear me to ebooks as a whole)

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  63. Author on Vacation
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 20:26:53

    @cecilia:

    “Apparently, because readers can’t judge what they’re getting until they buy it, crap also costs…”

    I would rather buy and read a disappointing book from time to time, enriching an author who might not “deserve” it than see the best authors (including authors I may not personally admire) retire from the business because their skills and talents are better rewarded elsewhere.

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  64. Brian
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 20:46:27

    @infinitieh:

    – but TO ME, the additional $2+ is just not worth it.

    That’s what it all boils down to. What’s it worth to you (generic you).

    For me personally I generally won’t spend over $7.99, but then I rarely bought hardcovers either. I’d buy a lot more if those $8 books went to $5-$6. I’m not with the camp that feels all ebooks are only worth $1-$2 because they aren’t “real”, but think it’s reasonable that an ebook should cost the same or less than the average ‘street price’ of the paper book. For me ebooks are superior to paper at this stage and I’m willing to pay a bit more than some folks seem to be. It’s very rare for me to buy an ebook in the $12-$15 range although I’ve done it a couple of times (but like I said I probably wouldn’t have shelled out for the hardcover either). I’d love to be able to buy ebooks as 4 for 3′s like I used to get when buying paperbacks from Amazon (who doesn’t discount mass markets any other way).

    That said it would appear there are a lot of people willing to spend the $12-$20 I’m not as on any given day usually at least 30% of the Kindle top 100 are $10+ agency priced books (I’ve been watching it off and on for a long time). The thing I keep in mind is I wouldn’t have those books in paper either until the price dropped 6 months to a years later (which the ebooks usually do to [not always]) so there’s no point in me getting too worked up about it.

    In general this is all directed at the Agency Six as stuff from pubs like HQN and Sourcebooks can be discounted and I know that even if I think the discounted price is too high there’s a good chance I can get them on sale or with a coupon for a price that’s more reasonable to me.

    I dream of the day when a major publisher follows a model similar to Baen where you have reasonably priced books, no drm, a place where even the head honcho will answer folks questions in a no BS manor (yeah I know, not very likely).

    As to contacting the author about price. Will it do any good, no. Will it make a buyer feel better, maybe. Should authors expect it, absolutely. They are the public face of their product and therefore should expect to field things like that even if they have no say in pricing. I’ve never contacted an author about pricing, probably because I have a pretty good knowledge of how things work, but that not to say I never will. They still have a better chance of their message being seen by someone who can affect things than I do. I look at it similarly (right or wrong) to when I have contacted authors when I’ve gotten ebooks completely riddled with errors and while I know there’s also little they can do about it after the fact (they can’t MAKE the pub fix it, unless maybe they’re big enough to have some weight) I know they have a better chance of being heard than I do if I email some anonymous customer service address the publisher puts out. Every single time I’ve contacted one of those generic addresses I’ve never gotten a response with the exception of Harlequin who actually fixed the issue pretty quickly. The only time I’ve gotten action out of a big six is by contacting the author (who contacted their editor) or by finding the email of someone high up the food chain (it’s not easy) and contacting them directly.

    (then there was the time my laptop died, taking all my ebooks with it, and the site through which I bought my ebooks refused to let me download them again – though the situation was finally cleared up months later – this probably did not endear me to ebooks as a whole)

    That always sucks to hear about. I hope you’re keeping backups now (preferably multiple), just in case. It’s not a good idea to rely soley on a retailer to keep a copy even if they lead you to believe they do. I’ve seen people lose books too often to not rely on my own backups.

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  65. Brian
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 20:51:50

    @Author on Vacation:

    I would rather buy and read a disappointing book from time to time, enriching an author who might not “deserve” it than see the best authors (including authors I may not personally admire) retire from the business because their skills and talents are better rewarded elsewhere.

    Me too, although for me that was no different with paper than it is now with digital. I’ve often taken a flyer on new authors and found a new ‘favorite’. Although I’d rarely do it at $12+ (or in the past hardcovers), I do it regularily on $8 (mass market) priced ebooks.

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  66. Robin/Janet
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 22:31:15

    @JL: All economic systems have implicit contradictions, but I’m wondering if you aren’t actually talking about rational actor theories. And if that’s the case, then I can see where you’re coming from a bit more clearly (I think the macroeconomic character of neoliberalism is less relevant to your point than the issues surrounding the so-called rational actor.

    First let me say that when I’m talking about what’s rational, I’m not speaking strictly in economic terms. Still, within economic theories of the rational actor, my understanding — and I’m not an economist, nor do I play one on tv — is that the rational actor seeks to maximize their position both in terms of benefit and utility, and that both of these terms can vary in definition depending on the social construct in which the actor is making his or her choices.

    Which is not to say that people act rationally all the time, either economically or otherwise. And I am actually not trying to suggest that rational and emotional actions and responses are contradictory — what I’m trying to argue is that Scalzi’s reasoning is contradictory, in part because he’s trying to pass off an emotional plea as a rational (or in his words to me, “educational”) one. Which doesn’t mean that rational and emotional reactions are contradictory, per se, just that the way Scalzi himself has constructed his argument is.

    In fact, I agree with you that the emotional and the rational are very often intertwined, and of course you often see that with books precisely because the book is both cultural artifact and commercial product. That very fact makes it seem quite reasonable to me that the reader would appeal to the content creator in regard to *anything* related to the reader’s experience of the book.

    Can readers be “mean” about that? Sure. Does complaining about price to the author necessarily make them so? I’m obviously arguing no, and the reason I feel it’s important to make the argument on these terms is that I think the “complaining is mean” rhetoric is ultimately an attempt to de-legitimate the political agency exercised in the protest of digital book prices, especially when those prices are themselves part of a broader attempt to suppress the digital market, something that has negative implications for both readers and authors.

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  67. Robin/Janet
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 22:40:54

    @Jackie Barbosa: Yes, there are limitations to what you can do with a digital book compared to what you can do with a print book that may diminish their perceived value, but there are also quite a lot of advantages to them that could equally be said make them more valuable than print books

    I would argue that it’s important to distinguish those advantages/disadvantages that don’t involve intellectual property rights from those that do. For example, the abdication of the first sale right and the imposition of DRM do not, IMO, have equivalent advantageous set-offs. There are plenty of comparisons that do create some sense of equivalence (e.g. with the print book you get the cover art, you don’t need a battery or WIFI, you can read in the tub without fear of destroying an expensive device, you don’t have a huge worry about all your books being stolen in one shot, etc.), but I don’t think there’s a fair trade-off for losing the right of first sale (esp, considering the whole debate over whether you’re buying or renting the book) that doesn’t involve a decreased price. And even then I’d argue that the digital book reader is never fully compensated for that loss.

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