An open letter to the publishing “industry” from a customer who reads 100+ books a year
October 28, 2010 | 9:12 am
By Joanna Cabot
Hi there, publishing industry. I have spent the last week happily walking my sister through her first days of Kindle-owning, and showing her how and where to obtain reasonably priced content. She has more options than I do because she is not, like me, living in the publishing hinterlands of Canada (or, heaven forbid, living in France—I read the latest at Mobile Read on the new ‘single price for digital books’ law, and wow, the French are screwed!) But even for a Blessed American like her, there is still the whole agency fiasco, and $25 e-versions of decades-old mass market paperback Stephen King, just to name a few fiascoes. Well, you know what? I’m sick of it.
I am sick of the price fixing. I am sick of the head-in-sand burying. I am sick of publishers or agents or authors or whomever the actual decision-makers-without-clues are who are mucking up what should be a simple money-for-product transaction by continuing to operate on what my father calls the finest business model ever set up by 17th century Big Business. Enough! I am no longer dialoguing with you on this. My decision? I figure it will take you maybe two to three years to come to your senses, and while I am waiting, I am opting out of this whole thing.
Play whatever games you want to—I am ignoring it all. I will not be the guinea pig for any more of your ridiculous experiments. From now on, I will ONLY obtain Big Pub ebooks under one of the following four scenarios:- The book becomes available via my library’s Overdrive system and I borrow it for free
- The book is a paperback and hence the ebook version is available for less than $10
- The book is a new release which hits the best-seller list and hence is available for less than $10
- The book costs more than $10 but I have a coupon code and hence can obtain it for less than $10
If you book is too expensive or too geo-restricted or too format-restricted or too darned complicated for one of the above scenarios to both apply, and to apply in such a way that I can make the acquisition in Canada and in my format of choice, it will languish on my wish list forever. I am prepared to take that loss and not read your book.
But here is my question: are you prepared to take that loss on me, and on other readers like me? Because I think we are more your bread and butter than you might realize. Consider this—my mother thinks of herself a ‘heavy reader’ because she gets through one or two books a month. She thinks she is on your upper end, and she is making maybe a dozen purchases a YEAR! You can’t live on people like her. But if only you would sell to me, you could have a hundred chances—literally—to live off me.
What you are increasingly failing to take into account is the wealth of other sources a voracious reader like me has cultivated in order to keep their habit fed. Overlooking the books of yours which may actually be both of interest to me and qualifying under my new buying rules, there are also—
- The regular freebies from Sony, Kobo, Amazon, Baen
- Books, both ebook and paper, that I borrow from the library
- Books, in paper, that I borrow from my mother, sister, friends, co-workers etc.
- Zinio subscriptions—an entire year of magazines for the cost of ONE agency ebook
- My pre-agency Fictionwise backlog—a year’s worth of Ellery Queen, as yet untouched…
- Ebooks bought to replace shelf-hogging paper—titles I love enough to happily re-read
- Almost the entirety of the golden age of mystery, free at Project Gutenberg
- Backlist commercial books, self-published by authors who have regained their rights
- Emerging indie authors from Smashwords, Feedbooks and other sources
I could go on, but you get my drift. If you exclude the magazines the self-published indie crapshoot that is the Smashwords slushpile, I still probably have 500 unread books in my Calibre library at this moment, comprising freebie real books from Kobo and Sony promotions, author re-pubs, quality classics I haven’t gotten to yet and books I got on sale, pre-agency, and haven’t nudged to the top of my to-read pile so far. Add in the books I bought on sale over the last few pre-agency years to replace beloved paper books and you’re nudging my to-read pile up to nearly double that. My Kindle will not go unfilled without you.
My advice to you? Work it out, and fast. Readers like me—the ones who read enough to follow the news and the ones who care enough to write open letters like this about it—are hitting our breaking point here. We’re happy to pay—reasonably—for the numerous books we read. But you don’t seem all that happy to sell to us. I’m done. No more persuading, cajoling, suggesting. No more begging or complaining either. I have laid out my terms. You either sell to me, under those terms, or I take my eyeballs—and my money—elsewhere until you get with the program. You still seem interested in making this hard. I am taking back my power as a votes-with-wallet end-user customer and making it easy again. I am not going to waste my time considering the books you won’t reasonably offer to me. I am officially plugging my ears as of this moment. Wake me when the shakedown is over and you’ve worked all of this out, but until then, I’m not listening.