Last weekend, I wrote about bad behavior by one very passionate but unwise author as well as a publisher behaving badly. This week, I want to talk about things readers do that have repercussions on authors they might not think about.
Over the last week or so, there has been a great deal written about the number of one star reviews Michael Connelly's latest book, The Fifth Witness, has received for its digital version. Now, it's not unusual for a best seller like Connelly to have a few one star reviews for a title. There's always that one person who buys the book and reads it, expecting something the book isn't. But we're not talking a few readers who aren't satisfied with what Connelly wrote. No, we're talking about hundreds of readers who have given the book one star reviews -- and who very well may not have read it.
If you go to the kindle page for The Fifth Witness, you'll see that there have been 167 customer reviews that average out to a 2 star rating. Specifically, there have been 38 five star reviews, 4 four star reviews, 1 three star reviews, 4 two star reviews and a whopping 120 one star reviews. While the B&N rankings aren't quite as one-sided, they do show the readers' frustration.
Why all the low rankings? Well, when this book first came out, it cost more for the e-book than for the hard cover. Yep, that's right. On amazon, you could get a copy of the hard cover for $14.28 while the e-book was $14.99. At bn, the prices were $14.73 for the hard cover and $14.99 for the e-book.
Needless to say, the discussion boards went wild. And so did the negative reviews. I understand readers doing this to protest something the publisher has control over. (For the record, the publisher of this book is one of the publishers following the agency model of pricing for e-books. You can always tell if a book is affected by this because Amazon adds the following under the price -- This price was set by the publisher.) The problem is, when you give reviews based solely on price, you are hurting the author. There are people out there who might not read the reviews but they do look at how many stars a book has. When they see a disparate amount of one or two stars as opposed to four or five stars, they make a decision not to buy the book. And that is how it impacts the author.
Now, surprisingly, the publisher did listen to the readers who protested the price. A check of both Amazon and BN this morning shows that the price for the e-book has been lowered to $12.99. While that is still more than what a number of e-book purchasers see as the upper limit on what they will pay, it is lower than the physical copy of the book. But the damage has already been done. The bad reviews based on price are there and the only being hurt by them is Mr. Connelly.
I'll admit, I might not have paid as much attention to what happened to Mr. Connelly but for a review one of NRP's short stories received. This particular reviewer either posted the review to the wrong title -- there is another title very similar to ours that is a novel where our title is a short story -- or this particular reviewer didn't pay attention to the file size when buying the title. Why, you ask, do I say this? Because the reviewer complained about having to pay for something that was, in his opinion, nothing but a "review" of a book. That review, coming around the same time as the kerfluffle over Connelly's book, really made me start thinking about what damage such reviews can do.
Is there an easy answer? Sure. Sellers such as Amazon and BN can add another level to their review process, one where you rate the price of the book that is separate from the review of the content. Will it happen? Doubtful. So it falls into our hands as readers to be responsible. Review the book -- read it and write a thoughtful and thought out -- review of the contents. Then add any concerns you might have about the price of the book. Publishers aren't going to be hurt all that badly by the loss of sales for one author's books. But that author will be. Numbers are everything in the publishing world. Authors don't have control over what their publishers price a book -- paper or digital -- at. So don't punish them.
If the price is more than you want to spend, then pass on the book until the price comes down. Speak up about the price on your blog, in discussion boards, in emails to the author and to the publisher. Email amazon and bn and other e-tailers asking them to change their review system to allow you to rate the price as well as the content. That, to me, is a much more fair approach.
In the meantime, let's hope the agency model of pricing falls by the wayside in the near future.