We have extensively covered consumers using the Amazon one-star “nuclear option” as a method of protest—first with the DRM-laden game Spore, then with the first books to be “windowed”—withheld from the Kindle for a few months at the publisher’s behest.

Joanna (nee Ficbot) made waves with her controversial post about using this method to protest Kindle e-book pricing and quality issues, “Maybe we should be hurting the authors”, then posted a more temperate follow-up.

Now author Paul Carr has posted a rant against the practice on TechCrunch. He feels that those leaving one-star protest reviews on Amazon are, to put it politely, misguided.

I speak from pained experience as an author when I say that we have absolutely no say on when our books are released, in what format and at what price. And yet we’re the ones who have the most to lose from negative Amazon reviews. A book’s overall star rating is one of the most prominent pieces of information on an Amazon page and many readers – quite reasonably – equate a low average rating with a poorly written book. This damages sales of the book and also damages our reputations as writers. Almost nobody – unless they click through and read the full text of the negative reviews – sees a one star rating and assumes its a comment on the decision by the publisher to withhold an electronic edition.

Carr links to another blogger’s post on the subject calling the practice “collective bullying” and goes on to talk about other one-star reviews based on matters unrelated to the book’s content, such as the author’s gender, race, politics, and so forth. He suggests that Amazon should change its review policy to allow reviews only by people who have purchased the book.

As someone points out in the comment discussion that follows, Apple previously had a similar problem in its iPhone app store until it restricted reviews of apps to those who had actually purchased them.

However, there is a key difference: Apple is the only (legitimate) source for those apps, so in order to own it the person would have had to buy it from them. Amazon, on the other hand, sells a commodity you can buy from dozens of places, or even read in the library without buying at all.

Restricting reviews to only those who purchased from Amazon itself would severely lessen the utility of Amazon as a review source by considerably decreasing the quantity of eligible reviewers for a given item.

This is hardly the first time that negative reviews have made waves on Amazon. Lest we forget, Amazon’s practice of allowing all reviews, positive and negative, has been controversial from the very beginning. Jeff Bezos has said:

“We had publishers writing to us, saying “Why in the world would you allow negative reviews? Maybe you don’t understand your business–you make money when you sell things. Get rid of the negative reviews, and leave the positive ones.”

Yes, negative reviews can hurt sales in the short term, but over the long term, allowing criticism builds credibility. Having negative reviews along with positive ones helps buyers decide, says Bezos: “We don’t make money when we sell things, we make money when we help people make purchase decisions.”

It doesn’t seem likely Bezos is going to change his tune now.

And in a sense these review writers are doing just what they are supposed to: judging a product based on its utility to them and stating their opinion. Most people I know, on seeing mediocre reviews, will be inclined to look further at those reviews, good and bad, to see why people dislike it, since not everyone looks for the same criteria in a book. People to whom a Kindle edition is irrelevant will pay more attention to the good reviews, since they are the ones that are useful to them.

In a way, Amazon one-starrers can take this as a sign that their campaign is working. They want to annoy authors? Well, they’re getting authors annoyed. It is unclear, however, whether this will result in the outcome they are seeking, since it is the publishers and not the authors who have control over the book’s release.

Related:

50 COMMENTS

  1. Whatever it takes. Annoying authors and costing publshers money/sales are the only things that will work in the long run for readers. Authors need to remember that everything is negotable. So if they don’t like the fact that they have no say about something, like publication dates,they should negotiate better. And for those who say they don’t have a negotiating position, try it. If you don’t even ask, don’t expect them to give it to you. Readers need to use every tool available if we expect to get what we want, you can be sure the publishers will, if they want to affect our behaviour/buying habits.

  2. I have left a single one-star review pritesting the delayed release of “Impact” by Douglas Preston- and my review kicked off a huge furor with over 50 comments including several from Mr. Preston himself some of which were directed to me personally. So I know whereof I speak.

    I agree that these negative reviews which affect a “political” aspect of the book rather than the book itself are conroversial. BUT, that does not make them wrong. I wrote it to get people’s attention- and in that I certainly succeeded.

    I would personally restrict one-star political reviews as follows:
    1) mostly to well known authors and NOT indie writers (they can better weather the financial hit).
    2) I would note the reason for the negative review in the title of the review, not buried in the review.

    Finally, as I posted in the Douglas Preston debate, I do NOT accept that the author has NO ROLE in when an ebook is released. He can have an impact on that decision if he chooses to do so and pushes his publisher. I am less certain about the author’s impact on pricing. But as the above comment suggests, if you don’t try, then you suffer the consequences.

    And, it does appear that the one-star reviews are getting the attention of the authors and from them the publishers. And that is why they are written in the first place.
    Rick Askenase

  3. “Finally, as I posted in the Douglas Preston debate, I do NOT accept that the author has NO ROLE in when an ebook is released.”

    This is because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Go away.

  4. Jason Kottke has a much more interesting and, in my view, on target analysis of the issue:

    “Compare this with traditional reviewers who focus almost exclusively on the content/plot, an approach that ignores much about how people make buying decisions about media today. Packaging is important. We judge books by their covers and even by how much they weigh (heavy books make poor subway/bus reading). Format matters. There’s an old adage in photography: the best camera is the one you have with you. Now that our media is available in so many formats, we can say that the best book is the one on your Kindle or the best movie is the one on your iPhone…That citizen reviewers have keyed into this more quickly than traditional media reviewers is not a surprise.”

    http://kottke.org/10/03/the-new-rules-for-reviewing-media

  5. Right on target, Bminata.

    If your publisher refuses to give you any input, and continues to do CONSUMER-HOSTILE things, and you the author suffer for it, then you have to make that tough decision to ‘fire’ your publisher.

    Choose publishers who are consumer-friendly and you won’t get those negative reviews over your publisher’s consumer-hostile actions.

    And DensityDuck, your reply reeks of the arrogance that people are tired of seeing come out of the mouths and keyboards of publishers and authors. Where does ALL the money that supports your industry come from? Yeah, from consumers. Mock them at your own peril.

    • Unfortunately, it’s generally not as simple as “firing” your publisher because most publishing contracts these days include a “first dibs” clause meaning that the writer has to offer his next book to them first.

  6. Yes, Chris, or they may even have a multi-book contract, or some other thing that consumers (like me) honestly don’t understand.

    But over time, things can change. Not all authors will be able to immediately have an impact, but many could.

    What is to stop an author in that situation from coming out publicly against what their publisher is doing? I bet you anything that if an author put up a nice letter explaining how they are against the publisher’s policies, how they are trying to get out of business with that publisher, and how long it will be before they can do so, that they wouldn’t get nearly the number of one-star reviews from angry consumers.

    Well, what is to stop it might be contract language, but I bet that wouldn’t hold up in court, if it even exists.

    When ficbot said “maybe it’s time to start hurting the authors” I read that partially as “maybe it’s time for the authors to start standing up for the consumers and themselves against the publisher’s customer- and author-hostile policies”

  7. “Whatever it takes.” I agree with this. I recently wrote to an author about missing books in the series, and got a stock response from her rep about how the author has no say and there isn’t anything she can do about it. This is a series author who has hit the best-seller list with nearly all of her books. A littler author, maybe I could buy that they tale the offer they get and so be it. But you really mean to tell me that if Sue Grafton calls up her agent, they are going to tell her they don’t care? I’m sorry, I just don’t believe it. What I do believe is that the issue has not hit home for her yet in a way that sufficiently motivates her to go to bat for us. If we could find the button to push for authors like her who ARE big enough, maybe we could get something done. *sigh* It should NOT be this hard to get someone else to take your money…

  8. What do authors expect people to do? Just ignore the problems, buy the content and live with it? If consumers can’t voice their dissatisfaction with something then they will continue to be ignored.

  9. The age of the all powerful publisher is ending. Of course, like all dying beasts, the old school publishers will thrash and fight and do a lot of damage before they go down for good.

    Authors now have the power to retain the rights to their works and relate directly with their readers. The publisher has one single consuming interest – to maximize profits. Authors and readers both care about many issues that are not important to publishers.

    Personally, I’m sick to death of spending money on ebooks that are riddled with typos and formatting errors. Publishers want the extra profits from ebooks. But they aren’t willing to put a little effort into proof-reading and formatting.

    So maybe it’s time for Authors to step up to the plate and take a little responsibility for the way that their works are presented to the public.

  10. This is absolute bull.

    First, people are influenced when they go to a product page and see very low ratings. If there are a lot of reviews, they may not take the time to go through to see if the reviews are actually from people who have read the book.

    In addition, product offerings at Amazon can be sorted by review rating, so a book that has several 1 star ratings from people who are having a hissy fit because they don’t agree with the price or it isn’t out on Kindle is pushed further back.

    More importantly, though, it’s not easy on an author to see poor ratings on our books. If it’s deserved, OK, we have to live with it. If it’s based on a publisher or Amazon decision, though, what a crappy way to treat authors. And no, the vast majority of authors do not have control over when and how our books are published.

    So here’s an idea:

    Don’t like the price of the book? Then don’t buy it.

    Not happy that the book isn’t out on Kindle yet? Did you have the same reaction when it didn’t come out on paperback right away? If not, then why is it so different for an ebook?

    No, seriously, I want to know. Where were all the complaints about later releases for paperback books? Now, why are ebooks different?

    Isn’t it really because ebooks cater to the “gimme now!” mindset? Can’t wait, have to have it now. Gimme gimme gimme!

    Amazon won’t fix this process, because it’s using folks that do these kinds of reviews to do its dirty work — to force publishers, and hence authors, to dance to its tune.

    Is this really what folks are protesting for? Amazon’s business model?

  11. @Shelley

    “Don’t like the price of the book? Then don’t buy it.”

    Agreed

    “Not happy that the book isn’t out on Kindle yet? Did you have the same reaction when it didn’t come out on paperback right away? If not, then why is it so different for an ebook?

    No, seriously, I want to know. Where were all the complaints about later releases for paperback books? Now, why are ebooks different?”

    Ask the publishers as they’re the ones changing things, for the most part it’s something recent the publishers are pulling. Especially when a lot of those windowed releases are still going to have a high list price like a hardcover would. The past few years ebooks, again for the most part, have been released at a hardcover like price point and then “adjusted” to reflect the paperback price point later. It was the publishers that decided to follow the print model with their ebook releases, you can’t totally blame folks for being a bit angry after investing in their devices and everything, that the pubs are changing things willy nilly and they keep changing things back and forth so when you get accustomed to one model things change yet again.

    “Isn’t it really because ebooks cater to the “gimme now!” mindset? Can’t wait, have to have it now. Gimme gimme gimme!”

    Maybe somewhat, but isn’t most of society that way now? Why would ebooks be any different.

    “Amazon won’t fix this process, because it’s using folks that do these kinds of reviews to do its dirty work — to force publishers, and hence authors, to dance to its tune.”

    You can report those reviews as inappropriate. Don’t know about books, but I’ve seen reviews for other products that didn’t really review the product get removed after being reported.

    I know it drives me nuts when I’m shopping on Amazon and there are one and two star reviews that have absolutely nothing to do with the quality or a persons experience with a product.

  12. I do not like delayed releases, but think it is extremely tacky and ill-advised to punish the author with a one-star review. It’s not like authors can just shop around and pick any publisher they want. An author I know who ASKED to have her book made available for the Kindle was turned down by her publisher. So it is her fault? Fortunately none of the Inquisition here has discovered this book and it has 5 and 4 star ratings. None of your 1-stars to bring it down. Really, guys, the punishment does NOT fit the crime. You are punishing the wrong one.

  13. I think that Amazon should implement a control that you can only review a book if you’ve purchased the book on that account. It would also cleanup the 5 star reviews for books that haven’t even been released yet.

  14. @Shelley: “Don’t like the price of the book? Then don’t buy it.”

    Jason Kottke (referenced above) has about the right of it. As an author, you want readers to review the content because it makes you feel better about your work. As a customer, though, I am reviewing a _product_ and have a temporary soapbox to inform other potential customers about the terrible quality of what they are looking to buy.

    If a defect in the glue resulted in the paperback version of a book falling apart before the end of a single reading, can I in good conscience still review it solely on the story?

    The problem authors are seeing is the combined review system of Amazon. The Kindle reviews are “poisoning” the paper reviews which can be particularly irksome when the minority product reviews have an overwhelming voice for the majority-sales product. I believe this may be a factor when Amazon decided not to combine reviews for video games, where publishers pull similar anti-customer stunts with select platforms.

    @Shelley: “No, seriously, I want to know. Where were all the complaints about later releases for paperback books? Now, why are ebooks different?”

    Partly, as AnemicOak points out, it is about established expectations. Further, though, a hardcover is generally viewed as an acceptable substitute for a paperback, but the same cannot be said of ebooks. They are different products.

    Many of the people buying ebooks today are the book enthusiasts that have found they prefer the electronic product. They are from the group that bought the hardcover simply because they couldn’t wait to read a book (in some cases, they _still_ buy the hardcover edition). Now the publishers are telling them that they are an undesirable market and will be punished. Wouldn’t you be upset?

    Fortunately, publishers are quickly going to realize that this windowing experiment is foolish and give it up. Much like 1-star attacks on poor products, publishers created ebook windowing as an attack on Amazon’s control of pricing (with the customer being the casualty in this case). Publishers know they can get a higher price for an ebook from many of these enthusiasts, while Amazon believes that the massive increase in sales at a lower price point (especially when the book is new) will more than compensate for the “loss” of ebooks to enthusiasts.

    Ebook windowing will disappear as soon as publishers come to understand that Amazon is correct or gain enough control that they can begin squeezing enthusiasts again.

    • It may be “punishing the authors”, but it’s punishing the publishers more. After all, the authors only get 15% of list; the publisher takes the rest of the wholesale price.

      It’s worth noting, also, that publishers are only hurting themselves by windowing. Many of those who would have bought the book will get it from the library instead. Some might even go to peer-to-peer and get it there (where some kind soul will have scanned and OCR’d the paper version).

      And as was mentioned in Joanna’s posts that I linked to at the top of mine, there just doesn’t seem to be any other way to get publishers to listen. The one-star reviewers are taking the only avenue they see as open to them: trying to shame the publishers into getting rid of windowing, and pressure the authors into putting pressure on the publishers.

  15. Correctly or incorrectly, the BPHs have created the impression they are out to rip-off ebook readers and punish them for *their* failure to meet their own expectations of sales.

    They’re the ones who for the past 50 years have steadily raised prices claiming “print costs” “pulp costs” “energy coss” or whatever smokescreen they could get away with and now suddenly turn arund and say print costs are irrelevant.

    They’re the ones releasing cost “breakdowns” that mysteriously fail to address any overhead costs, any corporate gold-plating, any absurd advances, instead pretending all books have the same costs, the same revenues.

    They’re the ones releasing tone-deaf pronouncements bragging about how they’re going to squeeze more money out of eook readers by price-fixing.

    They’re the ones adopting the price-fixing schemes that pretend to charge the same for super-advance name authors and unknown newcomers and mid-listers.

    Against all that, what recourse do readers have?
    Not buy and let the publishers pretend ebooks isn’t a viable business?

    Riiighhhtt!

    Not while they can register their discontent vocally and visibly.

    For those that dont like it: tough luck!
    In case you hadn’t noticed, its the 21st century out there and there’s this thing called the internet where freedom of expression rules and where there are hundreds of websites dedicated to critizing everybody and everything.

    We’ve been living in a consumerist society for 50 years now (Hello, Ralph Nader!); most companies have long since adapted and recognized consumers will not be ignored by anybody.

    And that includes ostriches.

  16. I think everyone should keep in mind that the content of an ebook is exactly the same as with a hardcover or paperback. If there are negative criticisms of this content then it is as with all formats the book is delivered in.
    eBooks are still an emerging and evolving technology and frustration with this tech should definitely not be taking a toll on the author.
    Availability of content is what should be focused on here whether it is hardcover, ebook or softcover. The authors rights and payments should be the same regardless of deliverable method as the author guarantees the content not the format.

  17. @ Shelley

    “Not happy that the book isn’t out on Kindle yet? Did you have the same reaction when it didn’t come out on paperback right away? If not, then why is it so different for an ebook?”

    Because when the paperback comes out, it’s priced as a paperback. When an ebook comes out (if it does) delayed and costing the same as the hardcover released several months earlier, or more than the recently released paperback, there’s definetly something wrong.

    “No, seriously, I want to know. Where were all the complaints about later releases for paperback books? Now, why are ebooks different?”

    Because they are delayed like paperbacks, but they are not priced like paperbacks. That’s the difference.

    “Isn’t it really because ebooks cater to the “gimme now!” mindset? Can’t wait, have to have it now. Gimme gimme gimme!”

    No. It’s because ebook buyers are sick of being treated as lesser customers. That said, some ebook buyers (as some buyers of just about anything) do want the product as soon as it comes out. Those will probably be willing to pay hardcover price for a decently formated and proof read product released along with the hardcover. But if the publisher forces them to wait (for a product riddled with typos and formatting errors), than the publisher is just trying to give them the paperback deal for the full hardcover price. Would you pay hardcover price for a paperback?

  18. Shelley, what I want to know from authors is why they are so supportive of practices that make it hard for me to give them money. Why are you not more angry at these barriers your legitimate customers are facing? Why are incensed authors not banding together and petitioning to solve these problems? Why are they expecting customers to do all the work FOR them at changing things to make a better system because they think THEY have the least power? Instead of getting defensive because your feelings are hurt by comments from people who haven;t even read the book, why not focus your energy on getting the book into their hands so they actually CAN read it and write the kinds of reviews you want? I think the real issue is that authors are focusing on the wrong problem here. The one-star review is not your real problem. The real problem is, that review represents a paying customer who tried to give you money and was prevented from doing so.

  19. Thiago, I am a Kindle owner, and I’ve not yet seen a Kindle eBook priced at or higher than the physical book. There can be a transition period when the paperback is out where the ebook is more than the paperback, but less than the hard cover, but the price usually drops within a month.

    Again, though, if you feel the book isn’t worth the cost, don’t buy the book. The price will, most likely, come down at some point. At least, this happens with popular fiction (non-fiction, less so).

    Others: is the publisher really punished? With this book, it’s the number one book in its category. The publisher is doing fine.

    For smaller authors, though, when it receives enough 1 star ratings, it doesn’t show up on the first page for searches on subjects. It can influence readers looking for a new author, or other books by the same author.

    It shouldn’t but it can.

    ficbot, I’m not writing in support of the publisher, I’m writing in support of book authors. And you really don’t know the book business if you think most authors have any influence on publishers and their processes.

    As it is, all of the Kindle 1 star raters are playing right into Amazon’s hands. Must be nice to turn loose a load of fanboys to do your dirty work.

  20. Maybe if authors stopped being sheep and stuck together, they could have more say in how their books are published. It takes two parties to sign a contract and one of those two is the author or author’s representative. As it is, most authors don’t care and don’t want to care about the business of publishing their books. Now, when they see how pissed off their customers are and that it is starting to affect their bottom line of royalties, maybe they will wake up and realize that they do need to care about how their books are published.

  21. Why is there an Author’s Guild if not for author’s voices to be heard? Has the Author’s Guild never been able to effect any positive changes on author’s behalf with publishers? Contract changes, for example?

    Use your combined voices to squash consumer-hostile behavior by your publishers.

    To be sure, the publishers are NEVER going to listen to the consumers. So now consumers are fighting back the only way they know how, and hoping it trickles down (up?) to the publishers.

  22. Shelley, when you say things like “Must be nice to turn loose a load of fanboys to do your dirty work.” you just come off as bitter.

    If this plays into Amazon’s hands then it is just coincidence that the consumer’s interests and Amazon’s interests line up in this case.

    Also an interesting point… do you remember all the 1-star reviews of the Kindle itself because of DRM and the 1984 “scandal”? Most of those people had never even seen a kindle. But as far as I know, those negative reviews are all still there (there are 1186 1-star reviews of the Kindle). Amazon does not exempt themselves and their own products from this kind of activism.

  23. Kottke gets it, many obviously don’t. Consumers, customers, care about packaging as well as content. It affects *sales* and if publishers and authors don’t care about that then there’s no hope for them (nor should they be shown any mercy).

    The point is that prior to the net and Amazon, etc. there was no way for the customer to tell the supplier about these issues, simply not buying the item told them nothing except it wasn’t successful. Now they can find out *why* it isn’t working and have the opportunity to do something about it, but only if they choose to listen to what their customers are saying… It would obviously be preferable if the publishers used their websites and had feedback links into sites like Amazon where customers could more directly communicate such issues to them, but they mostly don’t so people are doing what they can to be heard.

    Publishers are famously uniformed about what their customers (i.e. their readers not their booksellers) think about their products. They’ve been mostly hopeless about market research and so forth, the internet is the solution to that problem, if used properly.

  24. @ Shelley

    “Thiago, I am a Kindle owner, and I’ve not yet seen a Kindle eBook priced at or higher than the physical book. There can be a transition period when the paperback is out where the ebook is more than the paperback, but less than the hard cover, but the price usually drops within a month.”

    I should probably have been more explicit that my comment was about ebooks in general, not only kindle books (as by now I’ve grown accostumed to kindle owners thinking they are the sole ebook buyers on the face of the Earth). In lots of other places an ebook price will remain the same as the hardcover’s or higher than the paperback’s for a long time, despite windowing.

    I didn’t even mean to discuss the one star reviews thing, but to adress your argument, which is one I’ve been getting a lot over the years (even from authors), that ebook windowing is equivalent to waiting for a paperback. It isn’t. Apart from the hole pricing issue, there’s the fact that ebooks and paperbacks are two completely different products.

    There are good reasons for cheaper paperbacks being released later than hardcovers. There are no good reasons for an ebook not being released at the same time and price as the hardcover, and have its price lowered as the paperback comes out. There are no reasons at all for an ebook released at the same time as a paperback, or even later, to be priced, as it often is (if not in Amazon, in lots of other places), above paperback price or at hardcover price, for years and years.

    “Again, though, if you feel the book isn’t worth the cost, don’t buy the book. The price will, most likely, come down at some point. At least, this happens with popular fiction (non-fiction, less so).”

    I have been “not buying the book” for a long time now. Almost 100% of the ebooks I buy come from webscription.net for about three years. I have abandoned pretty much every other ebook seller there is because of this. It hasn’t worked so far. Prices haven’t gone down. Windowing still goes on and the overall quality of ebooks hasn’t improved much.

    I myself don’t advocate leaving one star reviews, but I’m almost glad it began to annoy authors. I hope they can be annoyed to the point where they’ll start taking notice of ebook readers. I think it would buy them a lot of credit with readers in general (not only ebook readers) showing that, while there’s nothing much they can do about these problems, they at least seem to care about the experience ebook readers have purchasing and reading their work.

  25. Has anyone considered the granularity of the review process? Why not suggest two different ratings; one for paper and the other for screen editions?

  26. Shelley, you say you are writing ‘in support of authors’ but how is it supporting authors to have people prevented from buying their books? As I said, that one star review represents not ‘an attack on the poor author’ but ‘a paying customer trying to send the author their money and being told they can’t.’ THAT is the problem.

    I know the book industry fairly well. I used to work in magazine publishing, and my father has a book out right now. I know some authors don’t have much clout right NOW, but they won’t get any clout unless things change, and I am all for motivating change since it will be to everyone’s mutual benefit. The whole point of these 1-star review campaigns (which, FYI, I have *not* participated in myself) is to motivate the authors to start advocating for themselves in a way they have not in the past. Rather than whining about how blameless you are and how little power you ave, you should be organizing yourselves and agitating to GET more power—just like we, the customers, are. Take some ACTION if you are unhappy with the status quo.

  27. “Maybe if authors stopped being sheep and stuck together, they could have more say in how their books are published. It takes two parties to sign a contract and one of those two is the author or author’s representative. As it is, most authors don’t care and don’t want to care about the business of publishing their books. Now, when they see how pissed off their customers are and that it is starting to affect their bottom line of royalties, maybe they will wake up and realize that they do need to care about how their books are published.”

    Mark…really? MOST authors? Do you really know that many authors? You’ve talked to hundreds of authors about this? That’s a very sweeping generalization. Authors tend to work behind the scenes when it comes to things like this. Badmouthing your publisher in public is career suicide. Do you shout about all your employer’s faults from rooftops?

    As an author, I HAVE asked for things like the ebook version of my print book being released at the same time, but it wasn’t negotiable. I’m a midlist author with very little power, and there was no guarantee I could get in with another publisher. I have no say over my release dates. None. It sucks, but we’re worried about staying employed, and when the average advance on a book is around 7K? You bet that staying employed is important.

    I used to work at McDonalds, and guess what? I had no say over where the frozen burgers were bought, what went into the oil the fries were cooked in, or what time the store opened.

    Publishers are a business. And yes, we’re working behind the scenes to try to change things, but to assume that MOST authors don’t care? Wow. Why do you even bother reading books if authors are such scum?

  28. Lately, I’ve been thinking that the best solution would be for everyone who finds these 1 star reviews annoying to give this those books a 5 star rating with a note Saying something along the lines of “I haven’t read this book, but I’m giving it 5 stars because it’s not available for Kindle, and I don’t like all these crybabies.”

    This has the benefit of being a counter protest from those of us who neither have nor want Kindles from letting a vocal minority jam up the reviews. Also, it would generate lots of nasty responses from Kindle owners, which I would find funny.

  29. Andrea, I think that what gives people that impression is that on recent issues of publishers versus consumers the majority of the authors who *are* saying anything at all are consistently coming down very hard on consumers. There is a lot of sarcasm, elitism, and outright hostility by some authors, as they toe the line right behind the consumer-hostile publishers.

    Plus we continue to read about people like ficbot who are actively trying to get help from authors on these issues and keep getting back form letters saying “Sorry, we can’t help you”.

    I say again, what about the Author’s Guild? Is there no power in numbers? Isn’t that the rough equivalent of your labor union? Do they have a position on these issues? Haven’t they helped in the past with other contractual issues?

  30. “I am a Kindle owner, and I’ve not yet seen a Kindle eBook priced at or higher than the physical book.”

    There are plenty. Harper and Macmillan both have some of their ebooks list set at $14-$15 even though the print book list is $7.99. Now a lot of the time Amazon will eat into their cut and discount the book to $9.99, but that’s still higher than print.

  31. Telling authors to ‘fire their publisher’ is sort of like telling someone else to ‘fire their employer.’ Sure, if the employer is breaking the law, engaging in immoral behavior, or mistreating employees, it’s a good idea to quit. But really, you’re asking the author to give up thousands of dollars of income so you won’t be inconvenienced by having to wait a few weeks for their book (and you’ll now have to wait a couple of years while they work through contract issues).

    I always release eBooks first–and I would be very disturbed if I started getting one-star reviews from paper customers because they don’t like my model. Sorry, it’s a model that works for me. I think publishers who delay eBook release are making a mistake, but I don’t think we should dump on the authors who write for them.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher

  32. People fire their employers all the time. If you have bad working conditions you unionize or you quit and get another job. I have suggested both options for authors.

    I won’t carry the analogy further because it doesn’t extend well.

    But that is precisely the point I’m making. If publishers screw up enough that they’re starting to make consumers openly hostile, then publishers are making life harder on authors. Time to find a new publisher if they do that to you.

  33. Mike, thanks for the rational response, and I do apologize for my own heated one. But since I AM very concerned about this issue (on behalf of the readers) I’m tired of taking heat and being lumped in with authors who “don’t care.”

    I care very much. I just have very little power to create change, so I’ve been handling things the best way I can. In fact, recently a batch of my print books were missing pages. Readers contacted me about it, and I apologized, let my publisher know, and then sent replacement books — my own books from my supply of author copies. When some ebook files turned out to be corrupted, I did the same thing. I could have asked my publisher to do the replacements, but I wanted to send signed copies to make up for the hassle. And to thank these readers for contacting me instead of leaving one-star reviews on Amazon that my publisher would never see.

    I’m still getting one-star reviews on Amazon for issues out of my control. If the readers had just contacted me instead, I would have handled it. And now the publisher is aware of the problems only because I have let them know. They would never have seen the reviews on Amazon if I hadn’t pointed them out.

    The AG should get more involved. For sure. That’s something authors can try to get moving on. Problem is, yes, some authors are fine with the delayed ebook release. Doesn’t mean they don’t care — they care VERY much, but their concerns are piracy. I understand that. I have never once found a scanned copy of my print books up for grabs anywhere. But within hours of the ebook version’s release, they are available for free download all over the internet. This is a real fear for authors, so it isn’t that they don’t “care,” it’s that they are afraid. Afraid of piracy, afraid of their publishers, whatever.

    Readers can contact the publishers instead of leaving one-star reviews that hurt the authors and that many publishers will never see anyway. If you’re going to take the time to write out a complaint on Amazon, why not just send that complaint directly to the publisher?

    I hate to bring up the McDonald’s example again, but when the trans-fat thing started up a while back, customers and health advocates didn’t complain to the employees; they went straight to the top. They made noise at the public and corporate levels, and things changed.

    Blogs like this are good. Letters to the publisher are good. One-star reviews on Amazon? All that does is create defensive authors who might dig in even harder. Or who might get discouraged. It’s widening the “friendly gap” between readers and authors, and definitely making some authors want to be less accessible.

    Again, apologies for the harsh response.

  34. “But that is precisely the point I’m making. If publishers screw up enough that they’re starting to make consumers openly hostile, then publishers are making life harder on authors. Time to find a new publisher if they do that to you.”

    Sorry, but I did want to respond to this.

    Finding a new publisher might sound easy, and it probably is for bestselling authors. But the average midlist author could have a lot of difficulty just “finding” another publisher. I know several authors who took the gamble of leaving, and have never found another publisher to take them on.

    And if a publisher treats you well, gives you input into covers, good promo, great editing…but then doesn’t want to release your ebook on the same day as your paperback release? Is that really an offense to quit over? Maybe it is that important to an author, so they leave. Maybe they are lucky enough to land another publisher. But now they’re risking crappy covers. Crappy editing, and now their sales tank.

    It’s all a gamble, and when this is your only source of income, just like anyone else, the decision to walk isn’t an easy one.

    Yes, I want my ebooks released at the same time as my print book. I asked. Didn’t get it. But I write for a great publisher, and I’m otherwise happy there. I can’t leave. I like to eat.

  35. I guess I don’t understand why it makes you ‘defensive’ and why you want to ‘dig in harder.’ Each of those reviews represents a reader who GENUINELY WANTS TO PAY YOU MONEY FOR YOUR BOOK. Isn’t that a good thing? They don’t want to pirate it. They don’t want to see you fail. They want to BUY the book if only you will sell it to them. If you are so ‘powerless’ that you can’t build on such a promising sales situation as that, then your publisher really *isn’t* doing their job.

  36. If you really can’t quit your publisher because of contractual or practical reasons then you have two choices left, I guess:

    1) live with it and hope the good outweighs the bad in the long run
    2) unionize better (using the term union loosely still)

    The pressure consumers are bringing is, presumably, intended to make the bad outweigh the good. That will hopefully either force the publishers to change (because authors or the Authors Guild pressure them in turn) or push authors to at least consider these issues when they do choose to sign a contract with a publisher.

    All that said, I haven’t engaged in any of this consumer activism yet because it hasn’t yet reached my outrage threshold. But I understand why people are doing it, and to some degree I support it. I also understand why you don’t.

  37. @ Andrea

    “Readers can contact the publishers instead of leaving one-star reviews that hurt the authors and that many publishers will never see anyway. If you’re going to take the time to write out a complaint on Amazon, why not just send that complaint directly to the publisher?”

    But here you’re assuming readers just haven’t tried contacting publishers. It’s not the case. Granted some people haven’t tried it, but others have. The publisher’s response so far has been to ignore these readers. Most authors have ignored them as well.

    It doesn’t seem to be your case Andrea, and I commend you on that. I wish most authors would follow your example. And while I understand it must be disheartening for authors to get otherwise undeserved one-star reviews, take comfort in the fact that, as ficbot said (and most authors haven’t wrapped their heads around this), those are people who want to pay for your work. They’re angry and frustrated because they’re being kept from doing so.

  38. “I guess I don’t understand why it makes you ‘defensive’ and why you want to ‘dig in harder.’ Each of those reviews represents a reader who GENUINELY WANTS TO PAY YOU MONEY FOR YOUR BOOK. Isn’t that a good thing? They don’t want to pirate it. They don’t want to see you fail. They want to BUY the book if only you will sell it to them. If you are so ‘powerless’ that you can’t build on such a promising sales situation as that, then your publisher really *isn’t* doing their job.”

    I didn’t say it makes ME dig in harder. But I can see how it can make others. You can only be attacked so many times before you get defensive. Some liken it to attacks on stores that sell fur coats. It’s one thing to not shop there in protest; it’s another to splash paint on the windows to encourage people not to buy there or to attract attention to your cause. So you’re vandalizing our book ratings.

    I get what you’re saying, and it’s awesome that readers want my books! But it doesn’t look that way when there are a flurry of one-star reviews meant to hurt my sales by bringing down my average…and by extension, my publisher’s sales. I see where you’re coming from. But from many authors’ POV, it looks like an attack on them for not doing more. We can only pick so many of our battles before the the writing starts suffering. And no, that’s not your concern. You have the right to do whatever you want.

    Authors have the right to not be happy about it. We’re trying. it may not look like it, but we are. And what do we get for our efforts? One star reviews meant to hurt us. To punish us for not screaming louder or quitting our publishers and going back to work at fast-food joints.

    You say it’s not meant to hurt us, not meant to make us fail. But it sure feels that way. And THAT is why we get so defensive.

  39. @ Andrea.

    You say you care about readers and have been trying to improve ebooks. That’s great, really, thank you for it. Then you complain about readers essentially not apreciating that. But have you made that public, have you shown them somehow that you care?

    I think that if you did, you’d see that it goes a long way towards winning readers’ apreciation. For instance, you’ll find plenty of people showing their love for publishers like Baen or authors like Cory Doctorow for their stance on DRM and ebook prices, and even more active initiatives too, like this website promoting good ebooks:

    http://sites.google.com/site/freecheapbooks/home
    which if I’m not mistaken is run by ficbot.

  40. Hmm, the remarks about the Authors Guild remind me the AG was *really* quick to jump next to the BPHs to stamp out TTS ebook presentation and really quick to jump in with Google’s orphan works landgrab. But actually try to bring more sales to their members people who want to buy their books instead of pirating them?

    Not. So. Quick. Are they?

    Are we really talking an Authors Guild or a Publisher’s Guild? Who do those guys work for?

    Then again, historically Guilds were all about protecting the entrenched vendors from the encroaches of modernity…

  41. Authors are independent contractors, and, as such, are prohibited by anti-trust law from collectively bargaining. It’s illegal for them to band together to bargain for better contract terms, faster e-book releases, or anything similar. Neither the Authors Guild, nor the National Writers Union, nor any other writers’ group can do what several posters are suggesting, because it’s against the law.

  42. Surely the Authors Guild has some pull here… their website says:

    “The Authors Guild has been the published writer’s advocate for effective copyright, fair contracts, and free expression since 1912.”

    Advocate for fair contracts sounds like they at least get involved.

    Even so, it doesn’t surprise me that the BPH have laws protecting them in this situation.

  43. @Anna Petrakis. Independent contractors can’t collectively bargain? I have no basis in law, but that seems incorrect. Isn’t that what the Screen Actors guild and the Writers guild do for TV, and movies and the like? I have seen those groups go on strike which effects a variety of movies and TV shows. As far as I am aware they are independent contractors as well.

    @Andrea. Thank you for your efforts Andrea, it sounds like you work very hard to do right by your readers. While a book is written by an author, it is also worked on by a publisher, so while it may often be unfair, the two are bound together, and one of the few public venues consumers have to work with is places like the Amazon reviews. What use is it to picket a company by going out in the middle of the desert to do so. This is one of the few places consumers can picket, and since there is no page for just publishing houses that leaves us individual books to do so. One of the purposes of these pickets is not just to complain and be heard but to make others also aware of these issues.

    As to delayed releases of ebooks, that has no bearing on their ability to be pirated and put in the internet in a short amount of time. There are scanners that can churn through a book in a day or less. So it is mostly a matter of how ambitious the pirates are. J.K. Rowling hasn’t ever sold her books in e-form but they are all out there. Some within days of being released in paper. Also for the pirates who provide these contents, there can actually be a profit in it for them as well. A variety of pirate sites have banner ads, so if your site has the most sought after content, then you can make a profit from said traffic. So you may wish to point out to your publishers, that not putting a book out in E-form will not stop piracy, but putting it out in e-form will mean that it is easier for the readers to buy their book instead of seeking out a pirate site for the content, and thus the publisher will now get profit instead of letting others do so at their expense.

    I admire you for working so hard to correct problems for your readers, but you are doing this all in the background without publicizing that you do so it seems. If you are unhappy about certain practices, make it known that it wasn’t your choice, and that you specifically asked to have it otherwise. An authors blog page, or I believe Amazon has some function for authors to give out information as well (some kind of authors page if I remember correctly). Make it known about your efforts and that may help to reduce people specifically giving you 1 star reviews if they understand your efforts.

  44. I guess I just don’t get why if you recognize that it isn’t about you, it would hurt your feelings. That seems a little immature to me. And I do resent it when I feel like I am trying to be a good customer, and the author is posting blog entries ranting about how terrible I am and now unwelcome my business is…

    The bottom line is, the Amazon reviews are one of the very few tactics anybody has tried which has actually gotten authors to notice that there’s a problem. So I am all for that. If nobody notices, the problem will never get solved, and then everybody loses. You say authors are so worried about piracy. Well, the best way to prevent piracy is to actually sell the books in the first place…

    I am not ‘anti-author.’ I did a lengthy interview about these very topics on the Writing Show podcast recently and was asked these questions. I pointed out that if I were ‘anti-author’ I would be downloading off the darknet and not trying to legally buy my books. But I think a lot of readers are at the end of their ropes here. I’ve written to authors. I have written to agents. I have written to Fictionwise. Each time, I have either been outright ignored, or told that it’s not their fault. It should NOT be this hard to give people my money, and I should not have to be the one doing all the work here. I have come back with ‘well, whose fault is it?’ I have begged and pleaded for someone—anyone—to give me the job title, or name, or contact information of someone who really can make a decision. Nobody has. I have blogged about it here and elsewhere. I have given interviews to media outlets like the Writing Show. I have said ‘if you are not in charge, tell me who is.’ And nobody has told me. So what do you expect people to do?

  45. One of my favorite things about Amazon.com is its review system, because it gives customers a public forum in which to express all kinds of opinions about the products sold on the site. The makers of the products can ignore the reviews, but they can’t toss them in the wastebin, and this makes them a powerful tool for consumers. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out which reviews are relevant to you. You can sort them according to various criteria, and they are even searchable. Some reviewers will be more thoughtful than others, of course, and we’ll always find one who drives us crazy. But others will give us information that spurs us to make purchases. The reviewers who annoy me are the ones who berate others for the types of opinions they choose to express. It’s natural that authors don’t like to see negative reviews, but that’s just the nature of a retail website. It’s Amazon.com, not the Amazon Online Literary Review. Customers should use the review system as they see fit, and we should all understand that not everyone will use the system in the same way.

  46. “The bottom line is, the Amazon reviews are one of the very few tactics anybody has tried which has actually gotten authors to notice that there’s a problem. ”

    You say that as though authors don’t realize that there’s a problem.

    PS readers generally don’t care who the publisher is. They care who the author is. And when they go to Amazon and see that all of an author’s books have dozens of one-star ratings, they’re going to say “gee, this author really stinks! Guess I’ll buy something else.”

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