Larry Correia just got a one-star Amazon review on his latest Baen hardcover, Son of the Black Sword. The review was not in regard to anything about the writing quality of the book itself, but rather concerning the e-book price of $7.99. Correia used this review as fodder for a blog post explaining why one-star-reviewing a book on price is a dumb idea.
The reviewer writes:
I read and absolutely loved, Correia’s monster hunter books. Own each and every one of them. I was so looking forward to reading this one after I saw the blurbs for it. However, I cannot bring myself to allow the publishing company that Correia has his contract with, to take advantage of me. Like many of the ‘main stream’ authors, or rather, those that aren’t taking advantage of self publishing, the cost of the book is inane. The Ebook. Which costs the publishing company NOTHING to create in comparison to hardback, and paperback books. Costs more than the Paperback. That alone, will prevent me from purchasing this book, until the price is fixed to something reasonable.
Apart from that review and a handful of other one-to-three-star reviews, 81% of the 174 reviews are five-star and 15% are four-star, as of the time I am writing this, so the book seems to be pretty well-regarded in general. Of the review, Correia in turn writes:
Your review doesn’t hurt anything except my overall average. You aren’t sticking it to the man. You aren’t harming the corporate fat cats. If you think the book sucks, give it one star. That’s awesome. That’s what the stars are for. But you don’t use one star to [complain] about the price of eBooks. That just makes you look stupid. We shouldn’t still be having this conversation with anybody who isn’t a Bernie Sanders supporter.
Correia’s blog post lays out the economic realities behind e-book pricing—and as a retired accountant, he has a pretty good grasp of them. I think the post might be a little wordy and could stand to be condensed, but then, I already knew pretty much all of what he has to say in it. As Correia explains, the reviewer fell prey to one of the common fallacies of e-book pricing, assuming that printing and shipping costs accounted for the majority of costs associated with producing the book—entirely failing to account for compensating the writer, editing costs, publisher overhead, and, of course, profit. He also discusses the price-demand curve, in which publishers try to set a price that will maximize their overall amount of profit. (If they’re not a Big Five publisher, anyway. They don’t seem to care about e-book profits as much as they do about not undercutting their print sales.)
The blog post is especially interesting where it gets into how contracts between publishers and Amazon can complicate matters, most notably where Baen’s Webscriptions program was concerned. “It all gets very complicated, and is also why for the first few years of my career the most common FAQ on my blog was ‘Why can’t I get your book on my Kindle?’” Baen, of course, had to change the way its entire e-book sales program had worked for over a decade in order to get its titles listed on Amazon—but once it had, Correia was very happy to have his e-books available for sale on the most popular e-book platform.
The really ridiculous thing, from my perspective, is that the Amazon reviewer is complaining about a Baen e-book, which is priced at $7.99 in new hardcover release. That’s $1 less than the book would cost in (the not-yet-available) paperback, and $2 less than the $9.99 new-release-hardcover e-book price that made the Price-Fix Six so upset about Amazon undercutting them with its ostensibly below-cost pricing that they broke the law to force Amazon to raise the prices. And it’s over $11 less than Amazon’s $21.46 price for the actual hardcover! And when the book actually does hit paperback, the e-book price will fall by another buck.
That said, I’m not sure I agree with Correia that posting one-star reviews over e-book prices is necessarily dumb in general. It is, at least, a way of signaling your distaste for a particular book (or its author) for whatever reason. It might be “slacktivism.” It might even be counterproductive, if you listen to Chuck Wendig. But it is, nonetheless, a way of getting the word out into a public forum that you think the price is too high. Any Big Five publisher who prices its new-release e-books at $15 and up deserves all the derision they have coming to them.
But posting a one-star review over the price of an $8 e-book is dumb. Baen has some of the best e-book prices of any major publisher, and they’re more in line with what most people seem to think e-book prices should be. Of course, there will still be no pleasing people who think the “best” price for an e-book is $2.99—but then, anyone who does think that $8 is a rational price for a new-release e-book will see one-star reviews by such people for the stupidity that they are. And it’s not as if authors don’t get plenty of one-star reviews for other stupid reasons.