Will bestselling science-fiction authors still be able to make a living in ten years? It may depend on the battle over e-book pricing. When author Douglas Preston weighed in on this issue, he received hate mail and negative Amazon reviews.
The New York Times did a story the other day about Amazon's move to dynamic e-book pricing of between $5.99 and $14.99, a concession to large publishing conglomerate Macmillan. The higher prices have pissed off some e-book consumers, who also rankle at the fact that Preston's latest bestselling novel, Impact, was delayed in e-book format for four months to maximize hardcover sales.
Preston told the New York Times:
The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing. It's the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It's this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.
This quote, especially the comments about "entitlement" and a "Wal-Mart" mentality, caused an even bigger backlash than the 50 angry emails Preston told the Times he'd already received at that point.
In particular, there are a flood of one-star reviews over at Amazon, many of which appear motivated by Preston's comments in the Times. Some of them actually reference Preston's remarks, while others just accuse Preston of wanting to make a quick buck or being a mediocre author who's just out for money. A typical review reads:
Preston has done nothing but defend his corporate publisher, their ebook release scheme which exists only to maximize hardcover profits, and supported higher ebook pricing. Now he's come right out and called you, his readers, children who stomp their feet and whine about the price of an ebook, which, by the way, has ZERO unit cost and essentially zero distribution cost.
Do yourself a favor and borrow this one from the library if you must read it. It's not that good to begin with and this author deserves absolutely none of your hard earned money.
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Also, the Marooned blog, which focuses on books about Mars, called Preston an "intellectual elitist." (Marooned has been ultra-critical of Macmillan throughout the e-book battle.)
Preston tried to staunch the negative comments by posting a conciliatory "open letter" on the front page of his site, shared with co-author Lincoln Child, saying that the authors "have no real influence" on e-book pricing and only want to write "the best books for you to enjoy."
Preston tells io9 he now thinks his comments to the Times were a mistake. He adds:
I think my comments were pretty stupid, to be frank. They came after a long month of being attacked by Kindle owners who blamed me personally for the fact that my publisher delayed the Kindle release for four months. I was frustrated and said some things to the New York Times reporter that did not reflect my actual views on the subject. I have been hearing back from many readers, some supporting my comments, many more criticizing them.
I think most readers feel strongly that an ebook, which they can't pass along to friends, can't add to their library, and which comes with DRM attached, should be considerably cheaper than a real book. And I would have to agree. The real question is when this cheap ebook should be made available. Studios don't release cheap DVDs the day a feature film is released, publishers don't release the cheap paperback the day a hardcover comes out. I'm not sure why consumers should expect a cheap ebook on the day of publication either.
Without being an expert on this issue, I can see e-books being treated much the same as paperback editions, made available cheaply after a book has been out in hardcover for a while. In any case, it appears any author who speaks out on the e-book issue can expect to be on the receiving end of a consumer revolt.