larryLarry Correia just got a one-star Amazon review on his latest Baen hardcover, Son of the Black Sword. The review was not in regard to anything about the writing quality of the book itself, but rather concerning the e-book price of $7.99. Correia used this review as fodder for a blog post explaining why one-star-reviewing a book on price is a dumb idea.

The reviewer writes:

I read and absolutely loved, Correia’s monster hunter books. Own each and every one of them. I was so looking forward to reading this one after I saw the blurbs for it. However, I cannot bring myself to allow the publishing company that Correia has his contract with, to take advantage of me. Like many of the ‘main stream’ authors, or rather, those that aren’t taking advantage of self publishing, the cost of the book is inane. The Ebook. Which costs the publishing company NOTHING to create in comparison to hardback, and paperback books. Costs more than the Paperback. That alone, will prevent me from purchasing this book, until the price is fixed to something reasonable.

Apart from that review and a handful of other one-to-three-star reviews, 81% of the 174 reviews are five-star and 15% are four-star, as of the time I am writing this, so the book seems to be pretty well-regarded in general. Of the review, Correia in turn writes:

Your review doesn’t hurt anything except my overall average. You aren’t sticking it to the man. You aren’t harming the corporate fat cats. If you think the book sucks, give it one star. That’s awesome. That’s what the stars are for. But you don’t use one star to [complain] about the price of eBooks. That just makes you look stupid. We shouldn’t still be having this conversation with anybody who isn’t a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Correia’s blog post lays out the economic realities behind e-book pricing—and as a retired accountant, he has a pretty good grasp of them. I think the post might be a little wordy and could stand to be condensed, but then, I already knew pretty much all of what he has to say in it. As Correia explains, the reviewer fell prey to one of the common fallacies of e-book pricing, assuming that printing and shipping costs accounted for the majority of costs associated with producing the book—entirely failing to account for compensating the writer, editing costs, publisher overhead, and, of course, profit. He also discusses the price-demand curve, in which publishers try to set a price that will maximize their overall amount of profit. (If they’re not a Big Five publisher, anyway. They don’t seem to care about e-book profits as much as they do about not undercutting their print sales.)

The blog post is especially interesting where it gets into how contracts between publishers and Amazon can complicate matters, most notably where Baen’s Webscriptions program was concerned. “It all gets very complicated, and is also why for the first few years of my career the most common FAQ on my blog was ‘Why can’t I get your book on my Kindle?’” Baen, of course, had to change the way its entire e-book sales program had worked for over a decade in order to get its titles listed on Amazon—but once it had, Correia was very happy to have his e-books available for sale on the most popular e-book platform.

The really ridiculous thing, from my perspective, is that the Amazon reviewer is complaining about a Baen e-book, which is priced at $7.99 in new hardcover release. That’s $1 less than the book would cost in (the not-yet-available) paperback, and $2 less than the $9.99 new-release-hardcover e-book price that made the Price-Fix Six so upset about Amazon undercutting them with its ostensibly below-cost pricing that they broke the law to force Amazon to raise the prices. And it’s over $11 less than Amazon’s $21.46 price for the actual hardcover! And when the book actually does hit paperback, the e-book price will fall by another buck.

That said, I’m not sure I agree with Correia that posting one-star reviews over e-book prices is necessarily dumb in general. It is, at least, a way of signaling your distaste for a particular book (or its author) for whatever reason. It might be “slacktivism.” It might even be counterproductive, if you listen to Chuck Wendig. But it is, nonetheless, a way of getting the word out into a public forum that you think the price is too high. Any Big Five publisher who prices its new-release e-books at $15 and up deserves all the derision they have coming to them.

But posting a one-star review over the price of an $8 e-book is dumb. Baen has some of the best e-book prices of any major publisher, and they’re more in line with what most people seem to think e-book prices should be. Of course, there will still be no pleasing people who think the “best” price for an e-book is $2.99—but then, anyone who does think that $8 is a rational price for a new-release e-book will see one-star reviews by such people for the stupidity that they are. And it’s not as if authors don’t get plenty of one-star reviews for other stupid reasons.


  1. We live in the real world, Authors have to face the fact that they have little or no control over reviews, Yes, this is very upsetting, but, as the saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I too think it is a little harsh to give a 1 star review because of price, but we are all different, and have our own priorities. And I would venture to say that the reviewer is not alone in regarding price as a relevant factor for a review. Like it or not, $7.99 is now at the higher priced end of Indie/Self Published books. Personally I think the matter would have been better dealt with by a comment rather than a 1 star review, and I can’t see myself doing the same thing. However, whinging about it will do nothing, Personally I rarely read reviews, and I also doubt I am alone,

    • “Like it or not, $7.99 is now at the higher priced end of Indie/Self Published books.”

      Baen is one of the most popular SF&F publishers, and they are distributed by Simon & Schuster. It would be fairer to compare them to imprints like Tor and Orbit, who price their ebooks much higher.

  2. Correia’s novels amuse me, and I have re-read them. But his ‘splainin’ doesn’t really ring very true.

    In the real world, Correia is the kind of entitled whiner who doesn’t like it that the majority of the books that science fiction readers vote for as Hugo nominees, don’t fit his personal style or politics, and who games the system to attempt to force things to fit his personal agenda. This makes him untrustworthy.

    Unfortunately, his explanation of the cost breaks doesn’t make me believe him. He doesn’t know them very well, and other writers DO and have explained in great detail where these costs are Stupid when applied to e-books. The number of people who will buy a hardcover is about the same as it ever was, so the price drop to an e-book vs. a paperback as sold by Amazon, is a spurious argument. Paperback availability does not noticeably impact the Big Hardcover sales past the first month, because Big Hardcovers are purchased by things like Libraries, Bibliophiles, and Collectors. People who want to buy the greasy cheese-dog and fries that a Correia book is the literary equivalent to (and deliciously so) will buy the paperback. Or the e-book.

    Putting the e-book out before the paperback does exactly one thing: it protects the early sales of the hardback from competing paper copies sold at the same venue. (Barnes and Noble brick-and-mortar.)
    Paperbacks are sold in a handful of places, and most of those places aren’t bookstores any more, they’re supermarkets and Target and Wal-Mart and similar general-goods stores. Oh, and Amazon, and B&N’s online store.

    To be blunt: I would spend 4 bucks* on an e-book AND 12 bucks on a hard-cover if it was worth it. I won’t spend more than 15 on a hard-cover mass-market book for myself. I will look VERY carefully and consider whether it’s worth it to spend 8 bucks on an e-book; at this point, I’ll go to a LIBRARY and check out a copy, only if it’s also very good. And I will MUCH more readily pay 8 bucks for a 120K-word book by a good author than 3 or 4 bucks for a 30Kword novelette by someone who won’t spend a few bucks on a competent editor to weed out their bad spelling and gibberish sentences.

    As to whether it’s a foolish thing to use one’s single star to send feedback over prices? Generally a one-star review is going to be very shallow and picky anyway. But Correia does himself no favors whatsoever mocking that his reviewers might use politics to give him a single-star review, while complaining about their Bernie Sanders fixation. This is the black hole calling the kettle black.

    * Yes. $3.99 is 4 bucks. I am not math-crippled; I trained myself years ago not to be dollar-wise and penny-foolish. $1.99.99 gas is two buck gas, too.

    • “Unfortunately, his explanation of the cost breaks doesn’t make me believe him. He doesn’t know them very well”

      Since he’s both an author and a former accountant, I think he probably knows them very well indeed.

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