Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jim Butcher's Ghosts, Part 2

So it turns out I wasn't the only one surprised by the strange pricing scheme on Jim Butcher's newest novel, Ghost Story. Other customers have taken notice.

Some background first. Amazon allows its members to tag products with terms they want associated with them. The tags are then voted on by other Amazon customers. The goal is to interconnect products through shared tags. I think it is a cool idea. You can click on a tag and see any other items that were similarly tagged. But the tagging system is being used for an entirely different purpose on Jim Butcher's newest novel.



Tags on Jim Butcher's Ghost Story (with # of votes received in parentheses):

  • outrageous kindle price (164)
  • too expensive for kindle (134)
  • publisher price ripoff (120)
  • penguin boycott (66)
  • 9.99 boycott (63)
  • come on with the ebook price (62)
  • kindle more than hardcover (57)
  • kindle price too high (47)
  • hardcover is cheaper than the digital (45)
  • publisher price gouging (29)
  • agency 5 price boycott (2)
  • agency 5 price fixing (2)
  • bring down price (2)
  • lost sale (2)
  • what happened to 9.99 (2)
  • anything more the 9.99 is a scam (1)
  • lee driver (1)
  • no sales at inflated price (1)

Compare Ghost Story's tags to the tags appearing on Zero Sight's tag page.


Zero Sight's tags consist of terms like fantasy, magic, and paranormal romance. These are tags you would expect based on Zero Sight's genre and sexy content. Zero Sight is not getting spammed with angry tags. The lower 2.99 price point seems to be inline with readers expectations. 

This tagging phenomena can be viewed as a barometer. Many readers do not believe that they should have to pay hardcover prices for electronic books, and they're angry enough about the high prices that they spend their time letting others know about it. But they're not demanding free books either. Notice how all the negative tags still hint at a desire to buy the book. These are not the voices of pirates on the high seas. These are consumers willing to pay. 

Paying customers are not the kind of folks you want to piss off. These are the people paying your bills, telling their friends about your work, and queuing up to buy your next novel. If they feel like they are being gouged, you've got yourself a problem. There are plenty of other novels in the sea, and you never want to give a large chunk of your audience the inspiration to look elsewhere.

This isn't Mr. Butcher's fault, of course. Authors don't set prices. Publishers set prices. But I'm sure Mr. Butcher is aware of the rising wave of discontent in his readership—and it's gotta be driving him crazy. 

Mr. Butcher has worked hard to build an incredibly loyal fan base. He's done thousands of book signings, interviews, and meet-and-greets. He's consistently delivering a high-quality product on a very predictable release schedule. He's earned every single one of his readers. They're his, not his publisher's. But this stupid pricing war between Penguin and Amazon is still damaging Mr. Butcher's brand. Not all readers know that authors have nothing to do with pricing. Some of them are going to blame Mr. Butcher.

I'm sure Mr. Butcher will have this in mind when he negotiates his next contract—and I'm not so sure this is good news for Penguin. He needs them a lot less than they need him. He's the source of their future revenue, but they're burning him to cover the debts incurred by their past. I'm afraid that if Penguin Publishing doesn't figure out the harm they're doing to their authors soon, they could end up like many in the recording industry, on their butt in a ditch wondering what the heck just happened.

I'm buying the hardcover version of Ghost Story. I'll have read it cover-to-cover before the digital version even comes out. But it looks like some other readers are set to engage in a boycott. We'll have to wait and see how it all plays out.

B.
Background on the Penguin vs. Amazon snafu:

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