Monday, May 9, 2011

Wow, Authors Are Caught in the Middle Here

So, I just finished Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness. If you like courtroom procedurals, this is your kind of book. I have several friends who are D.A.s, and I like books that delve into the strategy aspect of a trial. Unfortunately, the plot is nearly identical to the first book in the Mickey Haller series, The Lincoln Lawyer, but Connelly is a compelling writer so I think most people will enjoy this if it is a little deja vu-ish in terms of plot. Personally, I didn't think that the characterization was all that swift: (a) the new legal sidekick was boring and her moral dilemma even more boring because this issue was dealt with very effectively, again, in The Lincoln Lawyer, and we seem to be back-tracking in terms of Haller's personal moral ethos; (b) the victim was surprisingly absent in this book, merely a name, and by the end of it we really didn't care that he was dead because he was a scumbag, too; and (c) Haller's client was too much of an enigma. That is what made The Lincoln Lawyer so compelling a read. Louis Roulet was an exceptionally well-drawn predator, and we were practically eating Haller's frustration along with him. This client remains at a distance and to me that's problematic. However, I did stay up until 3:00 am reading it in one fell swoop, and I can't say that about many books these days.

What is most interesting about this book is the review war currently going on at Connelly's amazon page. Readers complaining about e-book pricing are flooding the site with negative reviews because the e-book version is more expensive than the hardcover. Yes, you read that right. And readers are pissed off. Man, are they pissed off. People are heading to libraries, waiting for the paperback, deciding to cross Connelly off their reading list, it goes on and on. The book itself is being lost over the issue of its pricing. Obviously, I don't know how much control Connelly has over the pricing model for his novels. I know that the one-star reviews are overwhelming and while a few of them didn't like the novel, the vast majority of them are complaints about the pricing.

In an era when publishers should be doing anything possible to keep their readers reading, they are alienating the readers who are their future market: those with e-readers. This doesn't make sense to me. The statistics that I've read say that 50% of the market will be electronic in five years. If you piss off the e-reading market, then I can imagine the piracy market will all of a sudden become exceptionally attractive. The only rationale that makes any sense at all is that they want to maximize their hardcover release by making the e-market release too expensive. I would imagine three months from now this will appear as an e-book at about $12.99 or less. But now there's a whole lot of pissed-off readers who aren't going to read a Connelly book no matter how cheap it is or in what format. They consider an e-release as a first-run release, and they don't care about the hardcover market. At this point I think it's a tug of war. The publishers are pushing this pricing for e-books because when most books are e-publications they will be in a position to price it like it was a hardcover; they think they just need to ride this out. Eventually readers won't have a choice.

I don't think it's going to work like that. I think that books are going to be pirated or authors are going to start cutting out the publishing houses and publishing themselves, which is already happening. I would imagine that Michael Connelly and his agent are reading every single one of those negative reviews related to pricing, and if I were him, I wouldn't be too pleased at the way this is coming down.


Maria Lima said...

In an era when publishers should be doing anything possible to keep their readers reading, they are alienating the readers who are their future market: those with e-readers

Yes this!

Getting 1 star reviews & being lambasted when we, the authors, can't set the price makes my blood boil. Yet, you can't argue with the the "reviewers" who think that this will make waves. Yeah, it makes waves all right, waves of agony on my part...I doubt New York publishers are agonizing.

Claire M. Johnson said...


I do NOT get it. It's like yelling, "Yoo hoo, book pirates." I honestly do not think that NY understands that they are not in a position of power here. Publishing has NEVER been nimble, and yet this market have already moved beyond them. Yet they are digging in their heels and trying to hold onto an outdated business model. Seriously, did you read some of those comments? People are pissed! And it's not like there aren't tons of other venues of entertainment or even other writers with more than competitive pricing. To have an e-book be more expensive than a hardcover. Are they crazy? If I were Michael Connelly I'd be furious. Because it's his readership that is being hacked into. The publisher is only going to be collateral damage on this. Do you think readers are going to remember the publisher's name the next time they want to pick up a book. NO! They will remember HIS name.

Maria Lima said...

Do you think readers are going to remember the publisher's name the next time they want to pick up a book.

And also, this.

Readers don't know from publishers. All they know is the author - we're the public face of our work...which is fine when it's the work that's being discussed, but when it's things beyond our control, such as cover art, pricing, etc. we're still toast, yet have little if any control. Makes me very sad.

I agree that the behemoths of publishing can't be agile & shift business models, but as you very eloquently stated, we're the ones being crushed by this. :(

Wendy said...

Even at ebook prices, a lot of readers just don't bother to pay. The torrenting of books is huge and it really drives home how much people don't know/don't care about the authors of their books. They assume they are all powerful and/or rich, I think, if they think about them at all.

Claire M. Johnson said...


Although I agreed with the sentiment for the most part, it would be impossible to ignore the tremendous sense of entitlement exhibited a lot of the readers complaining. This is the downside of all this free content. People now expect to be entertained for free. And if not free, then for peanuts. Someone like Connelly could probably survive on a $2.99 download assuming he got 70% of the profit. Someone like me? Well, I couldn't even cover the cost of a cup of coffee.