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Douglas Preston. Photo by Christine Preston Remember when we covered the New York Times article about Macmillan’s pricing change, with a quote from author Douglas Preston about the “sense of entitlement” present in readers who want $9.99 e-books?

TechDirt has a link to an io9 article talking about the backlash Preston has experienced from those remarks. Readers reacted to being told they were “entitled” about the way one might have expected: with angry one-star reviews on his book Impact (which is being windowed by the publisher, so no e-book is available yet) and lots of angry e-mail. (Of course, given e-book readers’ reactions to windowing so far, he might have gotten a number of those one-star reviews anyway.)

Subsequently, Preston posted a short “open letter” on his website, which says more or less that writers don’t have any influence over prices anyway, we just want publishers and retailers to stay in business, and, “From our perspective, the most important element in all this is you, the reader.”

So, in other words, it doesn’t matter if you think your readers have a “sense of entitlement” because the pricing isn’t up to you anyway? And gosh, how quickly you’ve decided your readers are important again after calling them “entitled” in the Times.

To be fair, in talking with io9 Preston said that he now felt his comments had been “pretty stupid” and that after receiving a lot of angry responses from readers blaming him for his publisher windowing his e-book, “I was frustrated and said some things to the New York Times reporter that did not reflect my actual views on the subject.”

But it has been my experience that when a person gets angry and frustrated, he says the things he does really mean but that otherwise wouldn’t make it out past his internal censor. Sounds to me as though Preston simply didn’t expect the level of reaction his comments would provoke, and is now frantically backpedalling as fast as he can.

Whether Preston really did or did not mean what he said to the Times, that he said it at all is, I think, symptomatic of the lack of connection that writers and publishers have with their fans. When you talk about your fans’ “sense of entitlement,” what that means is you’re taking all their legitimate concerns and putting them in a little box so you can push them aside and ignore them in favor of a nice big straw man.

Publishers and writers need to catch a clue about what their readership thinks. But I don’t really see in Preston’s behavior a sense that he’s doing that. He does mouth the words (claiming to have come to agree with readers that e-books’ limitations mean they should be cheaper at some point), but there’s no real way to tell whether he’s really had an Apostle Paul conversion, or just found out what side his bread is buttered on.

Douglas does still believe in windowing, however. “Studios don’t release cheap DVDs the day a feature film is released, publishers don’t release the cheap paperback the day a hardcover comes out. I’m not sure why consumers should expect a cheap e-book on the day of publication either.”

As I’ve said before, I think a lot of readers would be willing to put up with an expensive e-book at first and wait for a cheaper one if it actually became cheaper when the publishers said it would. So far, hundreds or thousands of paperback books still have hardcover-priced books at Fictionwise and other such stores.

 
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