Author Douglas Preston ‘entitled’ to change his mind

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.

7 Comments on Author Douglas Preston ‘entitled’ to change his mind

  1. Richard Askenase // February 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm //

    I have been active in the disagreement with Mr. Preston. I wrote the original 1-star negative review protesting the delay of the ebook. And I was called out BY NAME by Mr. Preston in subsequent posts. Then, he spoke to the NY Times and put his foot in his mouth that much deeper. Then he apologized.

    It is very clear from Mr. Preston’s remarks and actions that he supports the delay of ebooks, despite what his fans/readers want, and probably agrees with prices well above $9.99 as well. Well, he is certainly entitled to his opinion, and now he is bearing the fruit that he has wrought.

    I said before to Mr. Preston, and I say it again now, that I do not buy his protestations that he has NO role to play in the delay of his ebook. Sorry- not good enough. He is a big enough author that he could push his publisher to co-release the ebook and the hardcover. He CHOSE not to push his publisher to do so(probably because, as we have seen, he supports the delay), so the reader protests are well justified.

    What is really sad is that he just doesn’t get it- and, my fear, is that many authors don’t get it, either. Get what? That ebook readers are a VERY ACTIVE customer base, that we are BUYING many many books, that we can have a pretty direct dialogue with authors, and, therefore, that we are empowered on our own consumer behalf. This is the new world order.

    Other writers need to learn from his stupid example- badmouth your readers at great cost. THEY are your customers, NOT the publishers. And burying your head in the sand and saying “Everything is in the hands of my publisher and I have no say/role” just doesn’t cut it. Get active with and on behalf of your customers, and you will be the big winner.

    Hopefully, lesson learned.

  2. This is what Mr Preston really thinks of his readers (engage sarcasmometer first):

    I’m just devastated I have lost Mr. Reardon as a reader. I simply don’t know what I’ll do.

  3. Preston should have remembered one of the great Internet Dictums: don’t feed the troll. There’s no point arguing with those who have an inflated sense of their own self-importance.

    This is the ‘new world order’?
    ORLY oO

  4. I like your debunking of Preston’s “open letter,” Chris. I disagree with one point: I don’t think he’s backpedalling “as fast as he can,” I think he’s backpedalling at a leisurely rate that doesn’t hurt his pride too badly.

    He didn’t, for instance, apologize. Nor did he even acknowledge that he insulted his readers. On a scale of one to contrite, I’d give his statement a two.

  5. Maybe we should be hurting the authors? Ficbot posed this idea a few weeks ago. I think in general it’s a bad idea, though I think it sparked some discussion that was meaningful and valuable.

    But in this case, perhaps not. Preston’s original arrogance, continued arrogance in the Amazon review comment, and continued arrogance in his ‘apology’ letter are disgusting. It’s a very clear case of someone who has forgotten who pays his bills because he’s been insulated from them for too long.

    He says he has no control over what his publisher does? Nonsense. He has some say in it. Presumably they make money on his books. If he pulls his future projects away from them and switches to a publisher that respects customers, that sends quite a clear message — much clearer than his ‘apology’ letter.

    The next move is yours Preston, show us you care.

  6. As an author, I can tell you they are getting shafted on their ebook royalties and are kind of stuck–they have to hope their publishers’ strategy of artificially high prices preserves paper books for a while. But it’s only temporary. Contracts vary, but if authors are getting the standard 15 percent royalty rate for ebooks in contracts that lock them in for years if not decades (if not the entire life of copyright), well…let’s just say more than a few will be eyeing that 70 percent royalty rate Amazon will be offering this summer.

    Scott Nicholson
    http://hauntedcomputerbooks.blogspot.com

  7. the practice of rating a book simply because one is upset with the publisher (or the author) is as good a reason as any. Infinitely better than the practice of giving a five star rating to a book simply because they like the author’s previous books.
    How else will the paying public show their displeasure at the arrogance of a idiotic author who has risen so high as to have lost all semblance of contact with his readers. I usually read a pbook, but i still think the author deserves a one star rating for his statements and his subsequent childish attempts to assuage the feelings of the aggrieved public.

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