On the Word “Entitlement”

I just read this NY Times article (via) and I’m noticing a trend that’s really starting to infuriate me. It’s the use of the word “entitlement” by publishers and authors to describe their own customers.

In this article, author and complete jerk Douglas Preston is featured in this paragraph:

“The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”

This kind of thing drives me absolutely insane. The ebook release of Preston’s book is delayed by four months because Preston and his publishers want their hardcover money. According to those publishers, Impact‘s “real price” is $26. Speaking of entitlement.

But let’s see some peasants brandish pitchforks. Exactly what are the outrageously entitled Wal-Mart Americans saying? Here’s another paragraph from the article:

“I just don’t want to be extorted,” said Joshua Levitsky, a computer technician and Kindle owner in New York. “I want to pay what it’s worth. If it costs them nothing to print the paper book, which I can’t believe, then they should be the same price. But I just don’t see how it can be the same price.”

Hmm. That’s logical, sound, completely unentitled thinking. For years, publishers have been charging $20 or more for “hardcover” books, implying that some of that cost goes toward the actual production materials. Now, with ebooks, they’re trying to charge the same price for brand new ebooks as they charge for the outlandishly expensive hardcover editions.

The problem with this isn’t that customers are “entitled” to think they should get ebooks cheaper. The problem with this is that no publisher has yet advanced any logical explanation as to why the ebook editions SHOULDN’T be cheaper than the hardcovers. The burden of proof is on the publishers, and they haven’t convinced anybody.

Furthermore, it infuriates me when publishers think or believe that just because their pricing system has been a certain way in the past, that’s the way it should be forever. $26 is not the “real price” of a book. Dan Brown is not worth $26, Sarah Palin is not worth $26. And let’s face it, Douglas Preston isn’t worth $26. (You can just tell by his hair, can’t you?)

In reality, the hardcover of Impact goes for $14.29 at Amazon. If you want customers to pay more than $9.99 for the ebook edition, start by showing them a formula that goes something like this: [hardcover price] – [paper, ink, cardboard, and shipping costs] = [ebook price]. To sell a hardcover for $14 and then argue that the “real price” of the ebook version is up to $15…  sheer madness.

Now, I do think publishers should be able to set their own prices. I also think Macmillan is incredibly stupid to raise their prices $5 per ebook. I hope it brings them to their knees. Fine, though, it’s up to them.

But when rich, bestselling hack authors (Preston’s crapped out more than a dozen novels in the past decade) start insulting their own readers, things are taking a wrong turn. It’s not readers’ “absolutely astonishing sense of entitlement” that makes us think technological advancement should bring down production costs, it’s basic common sense. And no matter how many times publishers say ebooks are expensive to make, it will never make sense to charge the same amount.

Somebody Forgot What Time It Was

[UPDATE: Evidently, WordPress thinks it’s March 19th, 2146. It’s not, is it?

REUPDATE (RESOLVED): So that was bizarre, but it’s over now. For a few hours or so, we were thrown 150 years into the future. Some odd pictures of C4 from the future, after the jump.]

So something weird just happened, and a couple of our finished and half-finished posts got published, even though they were scheduled for hours or days from now.

Evidently, either WordPress or our web host thought it was in Lost for a second, and forgot what year it was. Even when I changed the publishing dates to the 2011 equivalent, the posts were still published. Weird.

Anyway, doesn’t seem to be affecting anything else, so we’ll just see if it sorts itself out. But if some odd-looking half-a-post showed up in your Reader, please accept our apologies.

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Wednesday Links: 2-10-10

Some news about books and ebooks from around the web (more after the jump):

  • So Amazon is absolutely terrified of the iPad. Amazon is releasing a Kindle software development kit (or SDK), which means we’ll soon see iPhone-style apps for the Kindle. Those apps will suck, because there’s little you can satisfyingly do with an ereader besides read, and one of the rules (according to Kindle 2 Review) states that an app can’t be “a generic reader.” RSS? Nope, can’t use more than 100Kb/month in bandwidth. K2R speculates that apps will be such things as crossword puzzles and simple timers. Color me underwhelmed. To raise the stakes, Amazon bought a touchscreen company the other day. This is all just awful. Amazon needs to realize that the singular purpose of the Kindle (and ereaders like it) is a selling point, not a liability. You compete with the iPad by making the Kindle cheaper, and as simple and easy-to-use as possible; then, you allow library books and hype them. That’s it. Trying to compete with Apple on Apple’s turf will only end in tears, Bezos.
  • Speaking of Bezos’s screw-ups, did you hear about this whole Amazon/Macmillan thing? Macmillan wanted to set their prices higher, so Bezos removed all Macmillan books and ebooks from Amazon.com (like a four-year-old who doesn’t get his way). Basically, it was two big stupid corporations fighting to see who could screw up worst, and the winner was Amazon! John Scalzi breaks down exactly how bad they screwed up. Of course, Macmillan’s no prize, either—softly strangling a flourishing market is just not a good idea—but they’re too scared to see straight. Amazon capitulated almost immediately, when the entire world told them they were stupid. But then it took EIGHT DAYS for Amazon to relist the Macmillan books, and now the Kindle editions of books like Wolf Hall are…. wait for it… still $9.99! So, presumably, Macmillan will set its own prices starting in the future, not now. Which means it took Amazon eight days to relist the books because why again? Anyway, this whole thing brought us this awesome Macmillan ad, and makes about the hundredth stupid decision hamfistedly made by Bezos and Amazon’s Kindle team. So congrats to them. For further reading, check out Booksquare and the Guardian.
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REVIEW: Going Rogue: An American Life

Author: Sarah Palin

HarperCollins, 2009

Filed Under: Nonfiction, Memoirs

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 3
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 2

This book was very tough to review. I have to be honest, I’ve started this review several times, and each time—after indulging fitful rants and political diatribes—I’ve had to delete the incoherent blather from my computer’s memory. It’s embarrassing, really, some of the emotions this book has elicited from me. I used to think I stood closer to the center of the political spectrum than to either of its poles. I used to badmouth elitists, and I used to believe that all of their derisive commoner-hating was just a mirror image of the populist movement that made Going Rogue possible. Yes, I used to believe that liberal elitists were just as bad for our collective progress as, say, the Tea Partiers. Then I saw some of the things I wrote, some of the hateful, bilious criticism of both Sarah Palin and her followers, and I realized that I sound like (gasp) an elitist asshole.

Has there ever been a more polarizing political figure than Sarah Palin? Not only do we all have an opinion of her, we all have a very strong opinion. She’s either the best thing to happen to this country, or the worst. So how, then, does one go about reviewing her book—a book that will only further calcify one’s strong opinion of its author?

Going Rogue is shit. It sucks. It is both literarily and politically a steaming pile of moose excrement.
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REVIEW: Plain Pursuit

Author: Beth Wiseman

2009, Thomas Nelson

Filed under: Romance

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 4
Entertainment..... 2
Depth..... 1

Is your idea of a happy ending a sexless marriage between a submissive yet nosy woman and a rich, pushy doctor in which they adopt a child before their third kiss? Oh it is? Well boy, do I have the book for you. Plain Pursuit is full of flat characters and boring, predictable events. It was clear from the beginning how it would end, and Beth Wiseman, picking up the Daughters of Promise series where some other author wisely she left off, writes competantly, but as if she’s on auto-pilot, merely filling in the blanks between mandatory plot points.

To be fair, I am clearly not the ideal reader for this book. To be honest, if not as fair, I find it hard to believe there is an ideal reader for this book. Judging from the jacket copy, Amish-centric stories are a burgeoning sub-genre in the Christian romance section of whatever bookstores have Christian romance sections. But I’m hard pressed to buy that even the most vacuous readers (if there are such things) will find something to enjoy in reading multiple versions of drek like this. I got this book for free from the somewhat dubious Booksneeze.com. They offer free copies of their faux-religious books if you agree to post your review on a commercial site like Amazon. So I’ll be posting this review there as well; I hope it drives sales up.

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REVIEW: The Unit

Author: Ninni Holmqvist, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Other Press, 2009

Filed under: Literary, Sci-fi

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 7

Broadly, The Unit is relatively straightforward science fiction about a fascist society in which logic and a sensible bottom line are prized more highly than quality of life. The title—which sounds military to me—actually refers to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological materials.

In this society, if you are not a solid cog in the economic machine and if you have no children, you are designated “dispensable” and are conscripted into the Unit. For women, the deadline for becoming a productive citizen is age 50, for men, age 60. For all, the fate of residing in the Unit is grim: your organs are harvested and, in the meantime, you’re used a human guinea pig for any number of physical or pharmacological experiments.

Let me put on my nerd glasses for a moment and nitpick one aspect of the premise: when we live in a world becoming more overcrowded by the second, the idea that a government would threaten people’s lives in order to make them procreate makes the whole novel feel a little bit out of date.

There, now that’s done, let’s get to the rest of what is a quite interesting and mildly entertaining, not dazzling, novel.
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REVIEW: Bloodline

Author: Kate Cary

2005, Razorbill (Penguin)

Filed Under: Young Adult, Horror

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 5

I know, I know. Young adult vampire novels swirl around in a genre flooded with quick-to-press garbage. To be honest, I have no idea how this book wound up on my shelves. But when I found it while looking for a book to take on the subway, I figured I’d give it a shot. And I’m actually pretty glad that I did.

Bloodline is not the typical teen vampire novel the cover design might suggest it is (assuming the typical teen vampire novel these days is a Twilight doppelganger). In fact, this book borrows a lot more from Bram Stoker’s classic novel than it does from glamour-chic undead romance of contemporary vampire fiction. This is a book with plot, structure, and language that leans more toward classic horror than toward YA.
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Anecdotally: Piracy Is Hurting; DRM Is Not Helping

I’ve noticed a mini-trend in the past week or two. First, in the Millions, I saw Confessions of a Book Pirate, an interview with a real, live ebook pirate, code-named “The Real Caterpillar.”

He does a little defense of piracy, which I’ll leave alone in this post, and he also has a few interesting things to say about DRM. Most importantly, he says he would pay more for an ebook without DRM and, when asked what would make him stop pirating books, he says:

I guess if every book was available in electronic format with no DRM for reasonable prices ($10 max for new/bestseller/omnibus, scaling downwards for popularity and value) it just wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and risk to find, download, convert and load the book when the same thing could be accomplished with a single click on your Kindle.

Caterpillar also lays out the excruciating process he goes through to upload a single book, a process that involves scanning a hard copy page by page, and then proofing the scan by hand, which can take “5 to 40 hours.” Damn.

So, for pirates like Caterpillar, DRM has no stopping effect on their piracy (Caterpillar started years ago, when he couldn’t find digital copies of the books he wanted, so he’s used to scanning), and instead it’s actually a reason to keep doing it, because publishers still don’t offer “clean” copies.

And Caterpillar isn’t the only one who scans. In this summary of a panel at Digital Book World, Peter Balis says the majority of pirated ebooks are scanned galleys, manuscripts, or hard copies. This means DRM is powerless to stop widespread piracy.

From other corners, there have come cries of falling sky, from Macmillan president Brian Napack (and we all know Macmillan isn’t afraid to go to the mattresses), and from music industry group IFPI, whose latest report claims “95% of music is pirated.” That’s a grossly misleading stat, since IFPI also says that the industry has shrunk by only 30% since 2004. Evidently IFPI means 95% of albums are pirated by at least one person—and they don’t seem to know how much revenue loss piracy actually causes. Ars Technica does a pretty thorough examination/dehyperbolizing of the report here.

Still, piracy is a problem. So stipulated. But, as I’ve said for a long time, DRM is not a solution, and providing media in DRM-free formats is actually an incentive to buy it and not pirate it. The argument against DRM-free is that piracy will be easier and more widespread since pirates won’t even have to scan the books. That may be, or it may not (it didn’t happen with DRM-free music). But one thing’s for sure: DRM does not help paying customers in any way. With the iPad coming out soon—along with a whole new slew of DRM headaches—it’s a good time to remember that lesson.

If publishers (and content distributors) continue to fear a potential future threat more than they care about their present, spending, legal customers, I’m afraid I’m not going to shed many tears when major houses tell sob stories about lost revenue.