Penalizing Authors for Issues Other than Content Quality
Before e-readers came along, it wasn’t uncommon to pay $25 or more for a new hardcover version of a book. With e-readers, the same book is available for as little as $10. While e-books don’t require manufacturing, in the traditional sense, or shipment, there’s still value attached to the book. But a certain expectation has been established, price-wise, and when you, or your publisher, violate that expectation, you can be prepared to suffer the consequences.
The latest to feel the wrath is TOR author Robert Jordan. A Memory of Light, a book written Brandon Sanderson (Jordan is dead), is available in hardcover for $34.99. It’s the final book in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and the e-book version will not be released until April. The book has 284 reviews in Amazon (as of 1/10), and 155 of them are one-star. Most of the one-star reviews take issue with the decision to delay the release of the e-book.
Of all the reviews on the first page, only one deals with the quality of the book–and that actually deals with the quality of the book itself, rather than the writing. Several called Jordan’s widow or authors, publishers, and retailers greedy. Sanderson’s blog says the decision to delay the e-book was made by Jordan’s widow Harriet, who wanted to make sure the last book in the series would hit number 1, as all the others have. Sanderson also says the decision isn’t about money “for her, as the monetary difference between the two is negligible here.”
Perhaps her cut is negligible, but for readers, the difference between $34.99 and whatever the e-book will cost isn’t. That having been said, more than half of the reviews for this book are one-star because of this business decision.
When RJ Ellory admitted to faking reviews against his competitors, there was a great outcry about the purity of on-line reviews. Ideally, they should be from real readers based on the actual book itself. They should from people who’ve read the book. They should be real.
While these one-star reviews aren’t in the same class as Ellory’s sock-puppetry, they aren’t from people who’ve actually read the book. They are from people complaining about pricing. Given that Jordan’s widow made the decision, this isn’t one of those cases where the author is the innocent victim of a business decision they didn’t control. But this is the exception.
The reality is, customers have more choices than ever before. If they don’t want to wait for the e-book, or they don’t want to pay more than $9.99, the have options. They can get the book from the library. Or they can get a pirated version. Considering Jordan’s genre and its audience, one suspects there’s probably an electronic copy available somewhere on the Internet for free, now.
As a writer, little of this seems right to me. The review should be based on the quality of the book, not the decision to delay e-book publication. And the reader does not have the right to expect books to always cost $10 or less. But the economic reality dictates otherwise.
It’s all part of the re-ordering of this industry that’s currently happening. And it’s not going to stop because we think it’s wrong.