Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Want What I Want Right Now And I'll Stamp My Little Foot If I Don't Get It

Kassia Krozser on "book entitlement" --
So, as a person who happily pays for books, this is what I feel entitled to: the book in the format I prefer at the time my awareness in said book is sufficient that I go to make the purchase at the price I deem reasonable based on my extensive experience as a book consumer.
Let's do a gedankenexperiment -- what would that statement mean, stripping out the trendy "e-books are free to make and I want mine cheaper than any price you'll ever offer" thinking, during most of the last century?
This is what I feel entitled to:
  • "the book in the format I prefer" = a mass-market paperback (because, let's be honest, this argument is entirely about "I want what I want to be as cheap as possible)
  • "at the time my awareness in said book is sufficient" = when the new hardcover is heavily advertised
  • "at the price I deem reasonable" = no, lower than that. Lower than that, too. How does free work for you?
At this point, everyone who actually works in publishing is snorting and laughing. As always, you can want whatever you want. And you can claim that you're entitled to it, if you want. But that doesn't mean that you'll ever get it.

I've helped to turn two toddler boys -- screaming balls of demand and entitlement startlingly like the above theory -- into semi-civilized tweens, so I'm very familiar with this kind of thinking. And I'd like to direct Ms. Krozser to the famous words of Mssrs. Jagger and know the ones, right?


Ray said...

She settles for too little.

I want the book, in the format I prefer, hand-delivered to my desk with a personalized note from the author, on a sale or return basis, whenever I see an ad or other mention of the book that catches my attention (don't force me to go through those messy 'ordering' or 'going to bookshop' experiences).

My money is as good as anyone elses, damn it!

Mike Kozlowski said...

But if you go to Piratebay, you just might get what you need.

Anonymous said...

Un-effing-believable. And worse, most of the commenters support her.

Jeff P.

Conrad said...

We are not in the last century so as the above comment puts it, you can go at various places and get it for free, so better offer it legitimately at a reasonable price.

After all in the last century magazines were selling and making ad money too, newspapers were selling and making ad money too, cd's were selling...

Hardcovers are still selling, but...


Ray said...

If the only 'reasonable price' that people will accept for an e-book is one that costs the publisher money, and if selling e-books at a higher price is the equivalent of sticking a 'please pirate me' label on them...
why produce e-books at all?
Why not write it off as a bad job? Because of the dozens of sales you'll miss out on?

Peter Hollo said...

I totally agree with you, except I'm not sure what "Let's spend the night together" has to do with the rest of the post.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Conrad: See comment by Ray, below yours.

Also, there's a word for the kind of commerce facilitated by statements like "this is a really nice product you have here. If you sell it to me really cheaply, I won't be forced to steal it", though I'm too much of a gentleman to apply such a word to you.

But "if you don't sell me this at the price I prefer, I'll just steal it anyway" is not a reasonable argument in a civilized society. Sure, people do that all the time -- pirate movies with camcorders, shoplift candy and electronics, and so on -- but such people are also often prosecuted for such actions.

Ray: A lot of publishers had something very close to that attitude eighteen months ago, but the Kindle has shown that there's finally a decent market for some ebooks. It's still small, true, and so many of the bestsellers in that market are free, but there's a hint that there might, finally, be some money to be made in e-books, after two decades of trying.

Peter: You might have misunderstood me; I meant "It's so very lonely; you're two thousand lightyears from home."

Mike Kozlowski said...


If you're talking about what publishers' business decisions ought to be, then there's no point talking about how things should work, or how they'd ideally work. The simple reality is that in the digital world, piracy is a big factor and you need to deal with it.

You can try to do it by keeping everything on super-closed, heavily-DRMed systems. That's worked for console videogames, mostly (though not for the PSP and DS, which are being devastated by piracy), isn't really working for movies or music, and probably won't work for books.

You can do it by relying on convenience and low prices to make piracy not worth the trouble. That's kinda sorta vaguely worked for music, and might work for books. (There's no way that I'm ever re-buying my library in digital editions at $10 a book, but at $1.99, well, somebody would probably get a lot of free money out of me.)

Or you can just talk about how decent people wouldn't pirate and if people won't pay $15.99 then fuck them anyway. That's worked for nobody ever, but you never know when it might be the first time.

If publishers can't figure out a way to make money in a high-piracy environment, then it's purely inevitable that publishers will go out of business and fewer books will get published. I suspect Ray is wrong and that publishers will find a way to eke out a profit, but I suppose we're all going to find out one way or the other.

And only semi-relatedly, this post title is the most ridiculous mischaracterization of a post I've seen in a while (hours, at least). The linked article is actually saying, very straightforwardly, that if you don't sell things to her on terms she wants, she won't buy them. Not that she'll throw a tantrum and post a boycott petition, not even that she'll pirate them, but that she simply won't give publishers money if they don't sell on terms she wants. This strikes me as pretty straightforwardly reasonable.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Mike: Ah, the old "if you're going to be raped anyway, you might as well lie back and enjoy it" argument. It's just as appalling in this context as in any other.

You're ignoring the fact that books don't have to be digital in the first place -- unlike music or movies or videogames -- and that publishers would be far more likely to just stop making ebooks if piracy got to be that bad. Let the pirates go back to scanning print books, if they want them so badly. (Though I will note that, according to the figures I've seen, most piracy comes from pre-publication versions, and not commercially available ebooks.)

And, as for my title...well, as one of Ms. Krozser's commentors has already called her out on, she's essentially saying that she'll only buy ebooks if they have all of the advantages of hardcovers (timeliness) and paperbacks (cheapness), plus the intrinsic strengths of ebooks themselves. I say again: you can want whatever you want -- I want a billion dollars, a yacht, and a big house on the other side of town -- but it doesn't mean you're going to get it.

Mike Kozlowski said...


If publishers look at the digital market and conclude that they don't want to be in it, that's actually a pretty rational decision. I've been surprised at the relative eagerness that publishers have shown for e-books -- from a strictly business perspective, it's pretty clear that the right thing to do is to use every scrap of monopoly power you have to make sure that e-books are delayed as long as possible, and that paper books remain the only way to buy books.

(Although I guess it is 2010, and e-books were "inevitable" in 1995, so they haven't done an awful job at delaying.)

But just as it's reasonable for publishers or their advocates to point out that they don't want to sell in a market that's not to their liking, it's reasonable for buyers to point out that they don't want to buy in a market that's not to their liking. If the things they want are unreasonable, then they just won't buy any ebooks, just as publishers won't sell if they can't sell on reasonable terms. Hardly a tantrum in either case.

My prediction, of course, is that in the end it'll be the publishers that crack, and ebooks will be available on these terms, but I haven't any idea how many years it's going to take to get there.

Ray said...

Mike, if the head of Harper Collins had a blog, and he said, "I want to sell books in the format I prefer, with the level of marketing I'm comfortable with and at a price I deem reasonable based on my genius as a publisher", he'd be mocked too.
Kassia Krozser gets to decide what's reasonable for her to buy, HarperCollins gets to decide what's reasonable for them to sell. If either side thinks that they should be allowed dictate whatever terms they like and have everyone else jump to do their bidding - yes, that is a tantrum.

Unknown said...

There's an equally hilarious(although more maddening) comment on Connie Willis' official site from a guy called Paul complaining about her business ethics because he "paid for a complete book but didn't get one". Blackout/All Clear is one story, broken into 2 volumes by the publisher.

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