Maybe we should be hurting the authors
February 5, 2010 | 11:25 am
By Joanna Cabot
Notice anything missing in the publisher press releases about their ‘victory’ in the Amazon/Macmillan battle?
John Scalzi writes to other authors. John Sargent is writing to ‘authors, illustrators and literary agents.’ Rupert Murdoch is speaking directly about his own bottom line.
What all of these seeming insiders are forgetting though is that without the paying customer, there would not be a bottom line! Authors, absent a paying audience, would be sticking it in a drawer like Emily Dickinson did, writing for their own personal satisfaction.
Where is the voice of the customer in all of this? What are they doing to try and make things better for themselves?
On forums such as Mobileread, this blog and elsewhere, customers are mobilizing and trying to advocate for themselves. The book review blog Dear Author is hosting a survey for ebook readers which it plans to take to an upcoming conference, this blog continues to serve as an aggregator for news relating to the Great Price War of 2010, and readers at Mobileread are organizing initiatives such as a boycott on all $15 books, and an interesting campaign to catch author and agent attention by deluging offending books with 1-star reviews.
And what has the response been? Plaintive replies, in every venue, about how these attempts to mobilize the reading community ‘hurt authors’ and we should just accept that there are aspects to doing business that we don’t understand and our only option is to shut up and pay.
To that, I say nonsense, and—this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but it needs to be said—maybe ‘hurting’ the authors is what we actually need to do for awhile. I don’t mean ‘hurt’ them through piracy or anything ridiculous like that. But we have to get someone to see that this fear of all things digital is costing authors actual sales from people who want to spend legitimate money. If a spate of 1-star Amazon reviews is what it will take to send panicked authors running to their agents and publishers demanding change for us, I say Power to the People.
I’ve written to retailers, to publishers, and to authors themselves about things like geographical restrictions preventing me from buying a book I wanted to pay for, or being unable to buy a series because it was only available from book 2 onward and I couldn’t find book 1. Responses ranged from outright ignoring at worst to polite ‘thanks for letting us know, too bad that’s not my responsibility and I can’t really help you.’
Nobody seems to care about how the customers are feeling, and how sad they are—for themselves, deprived of books, and for the authors too, whom they would read, whom they would support, whom they would generate profit for if only someone would let them.
All our efforts to advocate for ourselves have been in vain—nobody is noticing the letters, the blog posts, the veritable shouting from the internet rooftops begging someone to help us out, or if they can’t, then tell us whom we can write to who actually can help us. But judging from the angry responses to the thread at Mobileread, people are noticing the 1-star reviews!
Does it hurt authors? Maybe. I think an intelligent book-buyer could see at a glance where the 1 star is coming from and judge for themselves if they’re really going to cost an author a sale over it, so I am not sure how much bottom-line pain an action such as this would cost.
But it would certainly be less than what they are losing now to people who want to buy legitimate e-books and are prevented from doing so. All I know is, complaining from readers hasn’t gotten us anywhere yet. Maybe the pressure of authors at last mobilized to help us finally will.
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