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The New York Times has an article covering the implications of the impending agency pricing model for book sales. It mentions the one-star ratings that have shown up when e-book editions have been delayed or perceived as too expensive, and warns that publishers may be in for more than they bargain for with the increase in price.

Many of the arguments that we have covered in detail over the last couple of weeks make their appearance here: the cost of printing and shipping a paper book versus price of e-book, the sense of “entitlement” displayed by consumers, and the risk of increased price leading to increased piracy.

There are a few notes that might come off as ironic to those who have been following along. In particular:

“There are people who don’t always understand what goes into an author writing and an editor editing and a publishing house with hundreds of men and women working on these books,” said Mark Gompertz, executive vice president of digital publishing at Simon & Schuster. “If you want something that has no quality to it, fine, but we’re out to bring out things of quality, regardless of what type of book it is.”

As many mistakes as readers have been finding in Kindle editions (springing, apparently, from automated conversion without subsequent proofreading), this declaration is laughable. If they want to increase their prices, they had darned sure better start paying attention to the sort of “quality” they are putting out.

The publishers seem to be hoping that the Americans who have not bought Kindles or Nooks so far, and are not used to the $9.99 price for best sellers, will find $12.99 to $14.99 a reasonable price to pay for the electronic version of a more expensive hardcover book.

A number of consumers interviewed for the article had other opinions, however. Author Douglas Preston expressed astonishment at reader “entitlement,” calling it “the Wal-Mart mentality”.

Amazon commenters attacked Mr. Preston after his publisher delayed the e-book version of his novel [Impact] by four months to protect hardcover sales. Mr. Preston said he was not sure whether the protests were denting his sales. But, he said, “It gives me pause when I get 50 e-mails saying ‘I’m never buying one of your books ever again. I’m moving on, you greedy, greedy author.’”

This is the sort of experience a number of authors are having lately. Certainly judging from a recent post on Whatever, John Scalzi has been getting a number of that kind of e-mail in the wake of his series of posts on the Amazon/Macmillan affair, but he doesn’t let it bother him.

If the article has a flaw, it is that it simplifies e-book readers’ complaints to the price increase and release windowing, which does make readers seem a little “entitled.” On the other hand, as Ficbot and I have made clear, some of we early adopters do have a few more issues than just those. (But then again, most of the people complaining will probably be relatively new Kindle users who may well have a simpler outlook.)

In any event, the article also quotes publishers saying they can take advantage of the opportunity to experiment with different prices and find out what the best prices are for their content. And if the publishers’ track record on pricing so far has led to the sort of frustration Ficbot and I expressed, we can at least be hopeful that this is a chance for them to make a fresh start.

 
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