Monday, February 15, 2010

Weighing in on the E-Book Price Kerfuffle

Last week, the NY Times reported that publishers will be raising prices on new release e-books from $9.99 to as high as $14.99. People who shelled out several hundred bucks for an e-book reader, and who seem to think they were promised that e-books would stay the same price forever, are angry. And so, they've taken  to the practice of leaving one-star reviews on the creative products of their favorite writers.

I can understand the frustration, I suppose -- I mean, if iTunes all of a sudden started selling new records for $14.99, and didn't do a good job of explaining why, I'd be disappointed too. In the case of e-books, the anger mostly comes from a lack of understanding about the real cost of publishing a book. As the NY Times piece points out, you're not paying for the printing and paper when you a buy a book (and avoiding that cost when you buy an e-book), you're paying for a creative work, as well as the editing, marketing and other overhead required to put it out into the marketplace.

But, for the purposes of this post, that is beside the point. I'm much more concerned about the vocal minority who have taken to the one-star-review as their form of protest. I mean, by any objective rationale, a one-star review that has nothing to do with the content is not only idiotic, in an indirect way, it actually does impugn the content of the book itself.

Here's why: I'd never suggest that an Amazon review or a quick glance at the average star-rating should be the only criteria in a book-purchase decision. But for many people, they do hold a lot of weight. So several of these idiotic one-star reviews actually can negatively affect book sales.

So, if you'll follow me on a bit of a stretch scenario, not only is this practice stupid, it is also totally counterproductive. If book sales decrease, publishers will have to raise all prices, e-book included, further to stay in business and then NO ONE WINS!

Look, I know decrying the one-star-protest isn't exactly going out on an ideological limb. But, to me, this is the biggest shame about this whole e-book price kerfuffle. It makes me angry when I see one (on this new biography of Willie Mays, for instance), and even angrier when a reviewer tries to justify it - "this is a product review, not a book review."

So, as someone who strongly believes in the integrity of book reviews, I'd urge you to pay these vocal idiots no mind. Continue to click the "No" under the "Was this review helpful?" and I'll continue to petition Amazon and B&N to have reviews that have nothing to do with the content removed from their site.

Now, on a much happier note: The winner of my Zadie Smith giveaway is.....Kerry, at Entomology of a Bookworm. Congrats!


  1. 1 star reviews is OUTRAGEOUS. I'm excited to have a Kindle, I'm a mood reader, so if I decide they have it, I download. I think $9.99 is great but I wouldn't have an issue with $14.99 either especially for new releases. Readers wait for paperbacks instead of paying more for hard covers so why shouldn't it be more.

    I am in agreement for the price change etc, i'm sure i'm minority.

    And I will always buy my favourite authors hardbacks to keep.

    1 star is outrageous, I only give that for abandoned books and even then I know it is my opinion.

  2. I don't have an e-reader myself but I can understand why new releases would cost a bit more.

    In my opinion, a one star review that has nothing to do with the content of the book is unacceptable.

  3. This is most certainly not a great strategy. They're not hurting the industry with their one star reviews, but mostly the authors of the books their posting the reviews to. It seems like I remember hearing a segment about this on NPR a while back and they said that the price increase would not affect all books and was due to additional features such as author interviews and the like.

    Personally, I'm not a kindle owner or user. I'm sort of a purist when it comes to books. I want to hold them, smell them, put creases in them, and most importantly sign my name on the very last page with the date that I finished the book. Sounds silly I know, but for me that's all part of the reading experience.

  4. Every time I see one of those one-star reviews because someone's bent out of shape at the kindle book cost, I absolutely have to comment on that review -- I can't sit quietly. I generally say that I don't think it's fair either to the author, publisher or to prospective readers that the reviewer gives a poor review just because they're pissed off (I say it in a nicer way) over the prices.

    I have a Kindle, and I have had one since they first came out, and nowhere EVER was I promised that e-books would be a certain price. What absolutely kills me about some of these reviews is that then the person goes on to say they'll go buy it at WalMart, Costco, or wait for it on one of the many book trading sites. In the meantime, they've skewed the statistics, which is so unfair.

  5. This practice by some is ridiculous. Amazon should change their practice, by removing reviews that are in protest to price vs book context.

  6. Personally I would like to see these people called out. Nancy has a good idea. These idiots should be made to understand their adolescent behavior is counter productive. Greg you are spot on when you point out bad reviews may drive sales prices up.
    Let us know how you fare and if I can help. I would gladly write a letter to the book sellers asking that they quell the voices of these fake reviewers. After all they are giving us a bad name.

  7. @MarceJ - Good point about readers waiting for paperbacks. And I agree - OUTRAGEOUS! :)

    @JoJo - I also don't have an e-reader, but like you, I understand the price increase. Is it that tough to get? Thanks for the comment!

    @everybook - I like your idea about signing your name and date to the last page - interesting! I also like the look and feel of real books, but have been thinking about an e-book reader just for travel.

    @NancyO - Glad to hear you're taking action, too. It makes me so mad that a negative review is seen as a legitimate form of "protest." People are stupid. :)

    @Diane - I wish they would! I haven't gotten very far with them, though.

    @SariJ - I keep getting a standard response from Amazon that they get too many reviews to monitor accurately, but they'll review their policy soon. Bullocks!

  8. Thanks for finding a way to sum up so neatly the problems with 1-star reviews of higher-priced e-books. It is outrageous!

    On a slightly related note, some audio-book listeners complain that in reviewing audio-books, on Amazon or iTunes, there is no way to distinguish between quality of the book and quality of the reader - sort of a similar content/package quandary.

    Oh, and thanks for the win on the Zadie Smith book. I'm excited to finally read some of her work!

  9. While I don't have an E-book reader myself,I do sympathize with some of the issues folks who do have to deal with,such as unsteady prices and release dates,but when they cop an attitude about it and do things like purposely give bad reviews to books as a "protest",it really drives away any support for their cause that some of us on the outside of it are willing to give.

  10. One star reviews to protest cost and price upswings are not fair both to the audience and to the author too. While I understand their grouse, it doesn't seem right to me.

  11. I didn't know people were going so far as to give one-star reviews. That's ridiculous. It's only hurting the authors, who have nothing to do with the price of ebooks!

    If the ebook-angry mob really wanted to make a statement, they would just stop buying ebooks. That's much more productive than giving one-star reviews and hurting the authors.

    That said, though, I do sympathize with their anger at the increased price. I don't own a reader simply because I don't think even $10 is low enough for me to justify not buying a physical book. At least if I buy a physical book for $15, I have something sitting on my shelf.

  12. @Kerry - Book's on its way - hope you enjoy!

    @LadyT - I can sort of understand the frustration - mostly they were done in by marketing ploys, I suspect. But, yeah, copping any attitude removes all my sympathies.

    @Myne -! Thanks for the comment!

    @Michelle - Yeah, I don't think I'd spend $15 on an e-book either when you can get the hardcover online for about that much. But, hey, to each his/her own...

  13. It's certainly inappropriate for people to rate a book based on their dissatisfaction with the price, and reviewers who do this on a regular basis should be blocked. But I do think that ebook prices should be lower then those of paper books because the costs involved in producing an ebook are less. I would love to have an ebook reader, just because most books aren't available in Israel but if I lived in America I would not even consider it because it's so expensive. You can get books for free from a library or low-priced second hand books. her

  14. Wow, I can't believe people would give negative reviews based on the price of an e-book, but I guess there are some not so bright people out there. These reviews are supposed to be based on content and I agree they should be deleted and the reviewers blocked. Thanks for making me aware of this issue. I really had no clue. I will definitely click "no" under the "is this review helpful" button.

  15. I think it's a shame that people who are in disagreement with the Kindle book price increases would leave 1 star reviews! One has nothing to do with the other. I can understand the frustrations of the price increase though- the ebook industry has not really decided how to deal with us as a group. Why make us wait to buy the ebook version of a new book 4 months? If the publishers think ebooks are hurting new book sales they are wrong. EBook readers probably wouldn't buy the hard cover when it came out anyway. And the price increase? Well, I enjoy both my Kindle and buying traditional paper books. Why would I buy a $14.99 Kindle version when the hardcover is on sale lower? Seems to me that ebooks are cheaper to produce... Thanks for opening up a good discussion!

  16. I think this article explains nicely the REAL cost to a publisher of books - whether e or hardback: