Ego and ebooks

I received the latest American Libraries magazine a couple of weeks ago and I had a look at the letters to the editor section last night. One letter jumped out at me. You can read it here.

This is how it begins: “As an author of both E-books and real books (those made with paper and ink), I have resisted Kindle and other versions of e-readers.”

Oh. You’re an author of both ebooks and “real” books? With a clear preference for the latter and disdain for the former? Author? Who gets a royalty for sales of the very ebooks you disparage? (And as no ebook return policies as such seemed to have gained traction, your royalty is likely based on gross sales?) You signed the contract. If, when I was in the industry, I’d heard of an author who was basically slamming his publisher while at the same time receiving royalties, I’m sure responses like “ingrate” and “wtf” would be flying around the boardroom table.

Some readers say that a book just isn’t as good when it’s an ebook, that they couldn’t get into it. And if that’s how they feel that’s fine. (Mind you, I’m assuming that they did read an ebook, beginning to end, before offering their opinion.)

But, and I’m turning it around: would you say as much at an author signing? “Oh my god, Mr Chabon, I’m a big fan. I read your latest book and really liked it. However, I would have loved it if I’d read the print edition, instead. But  I didn’t, so I’ll have to be satisfied with this sub-standard experience.”

How would the author respond? “Yeah, that’s fair. That thing you read wasn’t the real book and if I’d been looking over your shoulder when you purchased it I’d have said as much. But thanks for the income all the same.”

Maybe something more like this? “Oh! Uh, right. I’m sorry. I’m glad you liked it, I feel a bit bad that your experience wasn’t up to your expectations. And I guess I can’t really sign your Kindle, so…”

Here’s a quote from closer to the end of the letter:

I was just forwarded a brand new book as a pdf. It is written by a very famous author and publisher. I had already purchased his real book. I won’t read his pdf on my computer, but I will consume his real book as soon as it arrives.

That’s interesting. I wonder if he’s not doing the full name-drop because he’s basically saying, to the very-famous author and publisher, “thanks for the free preview which I will completely ignore.” If he’d actually named names he’d be dropped from the A-list of key people who receive advance copies of major titles at no charge. As he should, I think.

This is not a constructive letter; it’s an opinion piece, and not a very compelling one.

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