I’ve posted a number of stories over the last few days about increasing consumer disillusionment (including my own) with publishers and their e-book strategies. On the Booku blog “The Smell of Books”, writer/editor Joel Blacklock has been noticing some of the same things, and is wondering if they mean that publishers are losing the hearts and minds of readers. Blacklock excerpts a couple of not-terribly-well-thought-out blog posts accusing publishers of profiteering and of intentionally incorporating errors into e-book editions “because they don’t like them.”
He also brings up Amanda Hocking’s comment (which I mentioned the other day) that a remarkable number of her fans seem to be cheering her on for sticking it to the man, comparing her to “Dorothy taking down the Wicked Witch” in regard to publishers.
Setting these clueless people up as a convenient straw man, Blacklock wonders:
Do blog posts like the ones at the top of this post convince you that publishers are doing bad things for the future of reading? Because I worry that they do. Every time I read one of these posts it makes my blood boil. Not just because I work for a major publisher and know what goes on there doesn’t compare to the bad press they’re getting, but because Amazon and Apple – major companies with a lot more sway over the future of reading than publishers – seem to be getting a free pass.
I’m certainly not giving Amazon and Apple a free pass in terms of the way their policies affect the e-book market, but regarding the aforementioned e-book errors, let’s place the blame where it’s due: when e-book vendors are not permitted to modify the e-books they receive from the publishers, who should take the blame for shoddy scanning? I don’t think any sort of conspiracy theory is necessary—as Hanlon’s Razor notes, never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Or, in this case, apathy. For whatever reason, they just don’t seem to care about e-book quality—certainly not enough to make sure they get it right.
And as for pricing, well, it’s easy to second-guess the publishers on that matter, especially since there’s a perception (whether justified or not) that e-books should be significantly cheaper to produce than the paper version due to lack of printing and shipping costs. But on the other hand, publishers’ inefficiencies that have built up over time mean that they need to take in more money just to survive. I’m certainly not going to claim they’re bringing in “rivers of gold”, but perhaps if they could do more to streamline their operations they could stand to charge a bit less.
But either way, yes, I think publishers are losing the hearts and minds of readers. After all, readers don’t have to know about the ins and outs of the publishing business—they just have to know how it affects their own pocketbooks, and how many errors the book in front of them has. When they see publishers wrest pricing control away from stores so that they can raise prices, and when they see the e-books they get are riddled with errors, and when the stores, publishers, and authors don’t seem to show any interest in fixing them, what are they supposed to think? As the old saw goes, they don’t know art, but they know what they like—and what they dislike.
And the publishers and authors are not exactly doing a good job connecting with consumers, either. Take the case of writer Douglas Preston, who denounced consumers’ reactions to the increase in pricing as denoting a sense of “entitlement” (and then backpedaled as fast as he could). Or consider that the first few announcements of Macmillan President John Sargent about the agency pricing imposition were aimed not at consumers but at other industry insiders. A number of publishing industry professionals, such as Brett Sandusky, are realizing that the industry needs to do a much better job of focusing on the general public, but this change seems to be slow in coming.
So, if publishers don’t want to see readers turn more and more toward libraries or piracy rather than purchases, they should perhaps start doing a better job of conveying to consumers why their books are worth the prices they’re charging. That includes providing error-free source files to the e-book stores, and fixing errors when consumers bring them to their attention. In this era of e-publishing, “because we say they are” is becoming an increasingly threadbare reason.