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December 29, 2011
Still More On E-Book Prices And Complaining
After what seemed to be a more-or-less throwaway remark about how he was tired of readers griping about e-book prices
, Scalzi this week devoted a fairly lengthy column entry to the topic
The immediate focus of his ire is a blogger posting under the name of Janet on dearauthor.com, and in particular her entry called "The Entitled Reader". Janet, in her turn, seems to be peeved at being called 'entitled' and to feel that readers - particularly readers in the SF/F genre - have relationships with the authors through which they express their feelings about the authors' works including the prices of such works. Scalzi, in his turn, assembles both his own personal experience and extensive remarks from Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor publishing to defend the proposition that publishers have relationships with readers and do think of readers as their customers and not just retailers.
Having read all of this, and having some experience myself dealing with publishers and authors (and a lot of experience dealing with fans) I think both parties are right to some degree but are talking past each other because they're focused on the issue of the relationship and not on what it means.
To wit: Scalzi and Hayden are correct that SF/F publishers have made serious efforts in the past couple of decades to have their editors connect directly with readers. Janet is correct that - even though many major SF imprints exist within the Big 6 publishers - the actions of the people who work within the SF divisions are often different from and sometimes in direct contradiction to public statements by C-level executives at those publishers.
But the missed point in here? E-book prices are a swindle, and readers are noticing it. Readers who care will complain and they will complain to the most obvious and public faces they can find. As Janet correctly points out, some publishers make it very hard to provide interactive feedback. At best many of them offer just a generic contact form and do their best to give an impersonal corporate Web presence. Hayden is spot-on in saying that some editors have gone headfirst into the social media swimpool and give a very human and interactive experience - but doesn't follow the thread to realizing that the corporate experience feels impersonal and disconnected by comparison.
So while Scalzi continues to be correct that it is not the authors' fault that e-book prices jumped 30-50% overnight he is missing the point of why Janet and Gillmor and others are making these impassioned public complaints. Readers are not stupid people, and readers know when they're being ripped off. People who feel ripped off complain and if your response to complaints is "the doctor is not in" then you're missing the point. It may be misplaced, but I hear the readers' ongoing complaints to authors about prices as a plea for help.
Shocking news: someone is right on the Internet. In fact, two someones are right on the Internet here, but nobody seems to be understanding why it matters.
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