An open letter to the publishing “industry” from a customer who reads 100+ books a year

images.jpegHi there, publishing industry. I have spent the last week happily walking my sister through her first days of Kindle-owning, and showing her how and where to obtain reasonably priced content. She has more options than I do because she is not, like me, living in the publishing hinterlands of Canada (or, heaven forbid, living in France---I read the latest at Mobile Read on the new 'single price for digital books' law, and wow, the French are screwed!) But even for a Blessed American like her, there is still the whole agency fiasco, and $25 e-versions of decades-old mass market paperback Stephen King, just to name a few fiascoes. Well, you know what? I'm sick of it. I am sick of the price fixing. I am sick of the head-in-sand burying. I am sick of publishers or agents or authors or whomever the actual decision-makers-without-clues are who are mucking up what should be a simple money-for-product transaction by continuing to operate on what my father calls the finest business model ever set up by 17th century Big Business. Enough! I am no longer dialoguing with you on this. My decision? I figure it will take you maybe two to three years to come to your senses, and while I am waiting, I am opting out of this whole thing. Play whatever games you want to---I am ignoring it all. I will not be the guinea pig for any more of your ridiculous experiments. From now on, I will ONLY obtain Big Pub ebooks under one of the following four scenarios:

– The book becomes available via my library’s Overdrive system and I borrow it for free
– The book is a paperback and hence the ebook version is available for less than $10
– The book is a new release which hits the best-seller list and hence is available for less than $10
– The book costs more than $10 but I have a coupon code and hence can obtain it for less than $10

If you book is too expensive or too geo-restricted or too format-restricted or too darned complicated for one of the above scenarios to both apply, and to apply in such a way that I can make the acquisition in Canada and in my format of choice, it will languish on my wish list forever. I am prepared to take that loss and not read your book.

But here is my question: are you prepared to take that loss on me, and on other readers like me? Because I think we are more your bread and butter than you might realize. Consider this—my mother thinks of herself a ‘heavy reader’ because she gets through one or two books a month. She thinks she is on your upper end, and she is making maybe a dozen purchases a YEAR! You can’t live on people like her. But if only you would sell to me, you could have a hundred chances—literally—to live off me.

What you are increasingly failing to take into account is the wealth of other sources a voracious reader like me has cultivated in order to keep their habit fed. Overlooking the books of yours which may actually be both of interest to me and qualifying under my new buying rules, there are also—

– The regular freebies from Sony, Kobo, Amazon, Baen
– Books, both ebook and paper, that I borrow from the library
– Books, in paper, that I borrow from my mother, sister, friends, co-workers etc.
– Zinio subscriptions—an entire year of magazines for the cost of ONE agency ebook
– My pre-agency Fictionwise backlog—a year’s worth of Ellery Queen, as yet untouched…
– Ebooks bought to replace shelf-hogging paper—titles I love enough to happily re-read
– Almost the entirety of the golden age of mystery, free at Project Gutenberg
– Backlist commercial books, self-published by authors who have regained their rights
– Emerging indie authors from Smashwords, Feedbooks and other sources

I could go on, but you get my drift. If you exclude the magazines the self-published indie crapshoot that is the Smashwords slushpile, I still probably have 500 unread books in my Calibre library at this moment, comprising freebie real books from Kobo and Sony promotions, author re-pubs, quality classics I haven’t gotten to yet and books I got on sale, pre-agency, and haven’t nudged to the top of my to-read pile so far. Add in the books I bought on sale over the last few pre-agency years to replace beloved paper books and you’re nudging my to-read pile up to nearly double that. My Kindle will not go unfilled without you.

My advice to you? Work it out, and fast. Readers like me—the ones who read enough to follow the news and the ones who care enough to write open letters like this about it—are hitting our breaking point here. We’re happy to pay—reasonably—for the numerous books we read. But you don’t seem all that happy to sell to us. I’m done. No more persuading, cajoling, suggesting. No more begging or complaining either. I have laid out my terms. You either sell to me, under those terms, or I take my eyeballs—and my money—elsewhere until you get with the program. You still seem interested in making this hard. I am taking back my power as a votes-with-wallet end-user customer and making it easy again. I am not going to waste my time considering the books you won’t reasonably offer to me. I am officially plugging my ears as of this moment. Wake me when the shakedown is over and you’ve worked all of this out, but until then, I’m not listening.

About Joanna Cabot (1592 Articles)
"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."

15 Comments on An open letter to the publishing “industry” from a customer who reads 100+ books a year

  1. Right on. As a German philosopher/playwright, I think it was Schiller, once said: “Before stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain”.

  2. I applaud you for your patience and perseverance. You lasted 6 months longer then I did.

  3. One big fundemental here of which e-books are just a part. There has been a fundemental shift in how we can buy all our books – not just e-books.

    We use to be limited to what was on the shelves of the local bookstores a the limited time most books were available to purchase. We now have sites like Amazon the almost infinate shelf space. We have independant ebook suppliers such as Baen and Smashwords. In short, I no longer have to buy the book today to be sure I have something to read.

    I read 70 -80 books a year. Instead of a mild panic at a bookstore when the choices were limited, I now have 42 book samples on my kindle to choose from when I finish the current book I’m reading. Of those samples, only one is priced over $10.00 and it is a non-fiction that required many hours of research.

    There are books over $10.00 that I would like to read but why should I when I have a very wide choice far cheaper. If a title is over $10.00, there are some really nice price watch sites such as Ereader IQ that will watch the titles for me and send me an email when the price drops.

    It is beyond my understanding why some of the biggest publishers are bound and determined to hack off their best customers.

  4. As another over 100 books/year reader I agree. I haven’t bought an ebook since the agency model changed all the book prices (for the worse). However as a longtime library user and used book store addict I have a hard time paying more than $6 for a book.

  5. You can do what you want, and you can rant all you want, but nobody who matters is listening. “Money talks, BS walks”.

    Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” has been selling in e-book at $19.99, which is more than the street price of the *hardcover* or even the audio book. Yet, it was in the top-5 best-selling e-books for its first week, and the top-10 for the second week. Today, a full month after release, it’s still priced at $19.99 and is still the #16 best-selling e-book at Amazon. Penguin is making a mountain of cash from this e-book. The other publishers certainly have noticed, too.

    What a few “best customers” do doesn’t really affect the publishers. If you read 10 e-books a month and won’t pay more than $10 for each, that’s $100 max per month. AAP statistics show *wholesale* e-book sales of $39 million for the month of August. That’s probably over $50 million retail, and that’s just from their reporting publishers. How many “best customers” refusing to spend their $100 is it going to take to make a noticeable dent in $50 million?

    What the publishers *have* noticed is the reduced profit margins under the Agency Model. Where an e-book might have wholesaled for $13 before, now it retails for $13 and the publisher gets 70% of that. There’s basically a 30% drop in publisher’s net e-book revenue with the Agency Model. That’s what’s most likely to bring down the Agency Model… not a few readers getting upset.

  6. I never fell for the agency model, I can’t afford it. I also resent being ripped off. An ebook provides less value for the money than a physical book that I can share, sell, or give away, why should I pay the same price? I can get a new paperback at the grocery store for just over $5, there’s no way I’ll pay $7.99 for the ebook.

    I’ve found plenty of indie authors to replace the bestsellers. Between those and free books from Amazon I probably have around 900 books on my Kindle, I’ve read over 100 of them in 9 months.

    If I can’t get a book I really want to read on my Kindle, I hit the Amazon Marketplace or our library used book sale. Even with shipping, I can get any book for less than $5. Neither the publisher or the author make a dime off of that transaction.

    My purchasing habits may not have much effect for a publisher, but at least I won’t feel cheated, and I’m supporting indie authors who want a good relationship with their readers.

  7. Sorry to have to say this but it does not sound to me as if you are opting out at all. It just sounds like you are setting a few limits. It also sounds as if you feel that $10 is a reasonable price for an ebook that has minimal production costs and nearly zero distribution costs.

    Personally, I don’t accept any of this. I am truly opting out of the big publishers’ current model for ebooks.

    First off, I won’t buy any ebook that includes any form of DRM. I think many people will come to regret the money they spend on device limited content. Imagine spending thousands of dollars on kindle books and then wishing you could buy the newest Nook or Sony reader?

    Secondly, I won’t pay more than $5 for any ebook whatsoever. Current ebook pricing exists for one purpose only – protecting the price structure of paper books.

    Look what happened with digital music. When it first arrived on the scene the music publishers were frantic to protect their sales of physical CDs. Digital music cost $15 an album and suffered from restrictive DRM. Today digital music is sold on it’s own merits and you can download tens of thousands of DRM-free albums for $5 or less.

    So, I’m really opting out from big publisher ebooks until the day that DRM-free ebooks cost $5 or less. Until then I’ll buy from small publishers like Baen, or get ebooks from the library, or search out free ebooks, or borrow ebooks from friends just like I would borrow a paper book.

  8. Just FYI, Binko, you do know that Baen’s e-books cost $6 each if you buy them individually, right? That’s not “$5 or less.” :)

  9. I have written a detailed letter on publishing practices, agency pricing, piracy and the demand for new legislation, copyright and sent it to 55 politicians in two countries, Ire and UK. We need to get a campaign of letter writing going to counter the back room briefings being made by the Big Publishers.

    Personally I never pay more than $7-$8 dollars for any eBook. And that is my top price irrespective of the eBook.

  10. Joanna,

    They’re signing their own death warrant. James Surowiecki talks about just this phenomenon in the most recent New Yorker (I think it’s the latest issue). He’s describing Blockbuster, but the idea is the same: change or die.

    Very sad for all concerned.

    My very best,
    Paula B. from The Writing Show

  11. I take a somewhat different approach: if publishers go out of their way to reject my attempts to give them money, I take them at their word – if they don’t want to be paid for the content they distribute, I won’t pay them for it. Instead I’ll try to find contact information for the author and ask what would be the most convenient way to send them $5, since I, unlike their current publisher, feel they should be paid for their work.

  12. “My purchasing habits may not have much effect for a publisher, but at least I won’t feel cheated”

    I agree, CS. I’ve never looked at my ebook purchases (or in most cases the lack thereof) as having any noticeable influence on publishers, but at least I feel good for not giving my hard earned money to idiots. I don’t read the popular bestsellers often, but I haven’t paid for one since agency prices started – I’ve just rediscovered my library card. For travel with my ereader, I’m loaded up with freebies from Project G. and author samples. I can keep this up forever – I will never pay more than paperback price for an ebook. Never.

  13. I doubt if the typical reader has a clue about all this or, if s/he does, is unlikely to become radicalized about it. While I admire your passion, Joanna, only a complete boycott of BPH will have an impact. And even then … well, there’s still an annual seal cull in Canada after all these years, isn’t there? Boycotts are almost always ineffective unless management gets the willies. Even Saddam Hussein stuck it out till the second war closed the deal.

    I do agree with your action plan: borrow library books and stick to titles under $10. But, I sort of think that’s what the average moderate to heavy reader is doing anyway, regardless of publisher. (The geo-restrictions are a little more complicated than you let on: they are in place for the benefit of the author, actually, who gets local market expertise by selling to different imprints in different lands. This will likely become less important, and quickly, as local bookstores collapse and the majority of book sales move online.)

    You’ve noted that you have 500 or so books in your TBR pile. I suspect a LOT of those will end up in your NTBR (never to be read) pile simply because you’ll add more, and there just isn’t time in the day to catch up. So … by all means implement your $10 or less strategy; the rest of us will anyway but it will be driven mainly by what most of us feel is value for experience — and much less about any particular publisher with an X on its forehead.

  14. borax99 (Alain C.) // November 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm //

    Overall I agree with Joanne. I’m fed up with the gross lack of responsiveness from publishers. “we can’t do it that way because that’s not how we’ve done business in the past.” Pursue that line of thought for too long, and you will piss off your customers. Piss me off at your risk. My bookshelf isn’t growing as fast as it could, because of (a) idiotic geo-restrictions and (b) ridiculous price-fixing scams. Get it, Big Publishing? You could be making *more money*

  15. Well said. I too am hunkering down with my big Fictionwise backlog, and looking on the bright side of things: the rise in e-book prices may turn out to be a very good thing for my retirement account, as my total spending will be much less now at $10+ per e-book than it used to be at $6 per e-book. There may be some bestsellers that owners of new ereaders are willing to pay $19.99 for, but I think few people will be willing to pay that kind of price on a regular basis. I certainly won’t. My annual spending on e-books has fallen from well over $1,000 a year to a small fraction of that.

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