My Sense of Entitlement

February 16th, 2010 · 28 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

A recent meme in publishing is that some readers are exhibiting a sense of “entitlement” about buying ebooks. I’d like to humbly offer myself as Exhibit A. It is true: I feel entitled to buy books. I insist upon it, actually*.

Seriously, is it ever a good idea to disparage your customers? To treat them like they are annoyances? To suggest that they simply don’t understand how things work, when, really, why should they? Especially when, in at least one instance, the publishers were the ones who changed (or attempted to change) the rules?

So, as a person who happily pays for books, this is what I feel entitled to: the book in the format I prefer at the time my awareness in said book is sufficient that I go to make the purchase at the price I deem reasonable based on my extensive experience as a book consumer.

The truth is, I don’t care about ebook windowing (except that it’s, as far as I know, a relatively new idea, and to take readers to task for expecting simultaneous releases is a bit much, no?). I don’t care about ebook pricing games. I don’t even care how long it took the author to write the book, the amount of research that went into it, and that it was handwritten in blue ink on yellow paper. None of these things are indicators of whether or not I’m going to have an awesome reading experience.

Basically, a publisher has one chance to get my money. If the marketing is done right, my awareness of a book is raised and my interest is piqued. Depending on the book — some I want as print, some (most) I want as digital — I will then attempt a purchase. If the book is not available, based on my previous behavior, I will either buy something else or find myself distracted by other bright and shiny things. The book that brought me to the store will never be purchased, barring a secondary marketing campaign coupled with renewed want.

Here’s why. There are way more books that I want than there are books that I need. If I stopped buying books for five years, chances are I still won’t finish all the books I already own that I haven’t read. Ten years? Maybe. You probably don’t want to challenge me on that.

Today’s wanted book becomes tomorrow’s forgotten book.

I am going to be frank about pricing. My household has purchased very expensive ebooks — a practice that lead me to present on the $75 ebook at Digital Book World — and most have been worth the price paid. We’ve had a digital book subscription plan for many years, sometimes paying money for an account that isn’t accessed for months. The value assessment of books comes from the consumer, not the publisher.

My experience with well-done ebooks, those books I paid higher prices for, and the ebooks I’ve purchased from major publishers has forced me to seriously consider price when it comes to buying ebooks. I recently wrote about the need to get the basics right. Given my experiences to date, it will take some serious effort on the part of these major publishers to regain my trust in their ebook products.

When prices go above $10, I take fewer chances on books. When prices go above $10, I refuse to pay for bad experience that cheapens the story. When prices go above $10, I weigh the fact that I could get two books for approximately the price of one. Given that I am a fast and constant reader, that final point is not dismissed lightly.

So yeah, I have a sense of entitlement when it comes to purchasing books. Availability, format, price. Where I come from this type of entitlement goes by another name: customer service.

* – Given worries about piracy, I think my stance should be welcome.

File Under: Square Pegs

28 responses so far ↓

  • Melissa Klug // Feb 16, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Bravo, Kassia–great post. I am reminded of the presentation I heard a few years ago from a woman who was an executive at the ad agency Leo Burnett. Their checks said “This paycheck brought to you by our loyal customers.” (this was, of course, back in the day when paychecks didn’t show up like magic in your bank account). I think many times, customers are viewed as an IMPEDIMENT to the process, not the raison d’etre. (BTW, this statement transcends the publishing industry and could be applied to any number of B2B or B2C experiences I’ve had lately.) Lots to think about here…thanks for the post.

  • Emily W. // Feb 16, 2010 at 11:27 am

    I completely agree that pubs explaining their business logic to consumers to defend their preferred price is useless and condescending. Also your quality control argument is so self evident it continues to appall me that this problem isn’t already fixed. That said, here’s my question: how do you feel about pre-ordering? I ask because I do this all the time on Netflix, if a movie comes out that I want to see but don’t want to pay full ticket price for, I add it to my queue with the understanding that I get to pay the price I want (subscription in this case but let’s not get too bogged down in the differences) but will have to wait several months for the movie to be available. Obviously this wouldn’t apply to every book, but if there were a book you were keen to read but didn’t want to pay a premium price for, would you ever be willing to pre-order at the $9.99 (or below) price with the understanding that the book would pop up automatically on your reader when the lower priced ebook edition became available down the road?

  • Tuesday Midday Links: | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary // Feb 16, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    [...] Krozser admits to having entitlement issues. A recent meme in publishing is that some readers are exhibiting a sense of “entitlement” [...]

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    @melissa — that is a great quote (and how does one go about getting one those magic paychecks???).

    I was honored (ha!) to be one of the staff designated as a customer service expert when I worked for a major drugstore chain, and I learned quite a bit. One, it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. Two, the customer isn’t always right, but that doesn’t really matter. A happy customer is what matters. Yes, I rolled my eyes at the woman who didn’t understand how rubber cement worked, but did I deal with the problem? Of course. Could she have handled it herself — instead of driving all the way home and then back to the store? Absolutely.

    Tying this to bookish things, last week Michael Cader wrote an excellent piece on the myths of this new world, and one thing he noted is that publishing isn’t telling its own story very well. I agree wholeheartedly. But I’d also add that while the industry has excellent points, so do the customers, and I worry their voices aren’t being heard.

    (I am firmly convinced that in this era of instant gratification and online bargains, one thing that will move the needle, be it in the physical or the digital world, is customer service.)

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    @emily — I do pre-order, moreso when it’s a book that falls on my “need” scale (one danger of pre-ordering is that I have cancelled orders when it’s a “want” book that ultimately isn’t getting good word-of-mouth). I love that ability, and it’s great. For example, I just pre-ordered a book that was getting great buzz from people whose taste I trust. I don’t mind waiting (clearly, I have plenty to read) as long as I have the ability to complete my purchase. It’s the lack of purchasing ability that frustrates me. I don’t know how to solve awareness problems, particularly since the various entities involved don’t necessarily have the right relationships with customers, but there is a challenge in informing readers of new markets being exploited (for lack of better phrasing).

  • David F. Weisman // Feb 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    As a customer, you are officially entitled to complain about the sense of entitlement of vendors who don’t believe the customer is always right.

  • Stan Scott // Feb 16, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    This may or may not be relevant, but a report was recently released showing iTunes sales results, AFTER the record companies succeeded in raising per song prices above the $.99 Apple wanted. They found, ahem, they’re selling FEWER songs at the higher price. The concept of “price elasticity” seems to have eluded them.

  • L // Feb 17, 2010 at 5:22 am

    See, I actually understand the “entitlement” accusation. (Whether or not it’s a wise accusation to make is a completely different conversation).

    As a paperback fan, I have always had to wait for a book to be released in my preferred format. And I have rarely “forgotten” a book that I wanted to read because the publisher was always wise enough to do a second marketing blitz when the paperback was released.

    My question to e-book lovers who rant about wanting what they want, when they want it is this: should not all readers be created equal? Should we not all be able to get the format we want, when we want it, at a price that is agreeable to both reader and publisher? E-books are not for everyone, just as hardcovers were not for everyone. Why should ANY reader be forced to wait for their preferred format? What makes e-book readers so special that they should get their e-books at the same time as the initial hardcover release, and dirt cheap, while paperback readers continue to wait?

    Personally, I would much prefer a conversation in which the needs and desires of ALL readers are considered, not just the readers who are fans of the latest technological trend.

  • links for 2010-02-17 « Unjustly // Feb 17, 2010 at 6:30 am

    [...] My Sense of Entitlement | Booksquare I don’t care about ebook windowing…I don’t care about ebook pricing games. I don’t even care how long it took the author to write the book, the amount of research that went into it, and that it was handwritten in blue ink on yellow paper. None of these things are indicators of whether or not I’m going to have an awesome reading experience. Basically, a publisher has one chance to get my money…I will…attempt a purchase. If the book is not available…I will either buy something else or find myself distracted by other bright and shiny things… There are way more books that I want than there are books that I need. If I stopped buying books for five years, chances are I still won’t finish all the books I already own that I haven’t read… Today’s wanted book becomes tomorrow’s forgotten book… I have a sense of entitlement when it comes to purchasing books. Availability, format, price. Where I come from this type of entitlement goes by another name: customer service. (tags: ebooks books business economics reading) [...]

  • Rich Adin // Feb 17, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Kassia, if I stopped buying books today, I could share that rocking chair next to you because it would certainly take me many years to read what I already own but haven’t yet read.

    As always a great post. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear to me that your attitude about entitlement (and mine) represent the mainstream of ebookers. A significant number of ebookers have a firm price ceiling of $9.99, which shows what a wonderful marketing job Amazon did, and will not budge. In conversations, they relate that they not only want a $9.99 ceiling but a wholly DRM-free ebook.

    As I’ve written before, I think some changes are needed on both sides of the equation. I think publishers need to band together and offer a repository service that guarantees that the DRM book I buy today will be readable on the device of my choosing for as long as the work is under copyright. And consumers need to show some flexibility on pricing in exchange.

    There is a new poll to measure ebooker attitudes at An American Editor (www.americaneditor.wordpress.com). It went up today and will be open for 1 week. I hope you and your readers will participate.

  • Marilynn Byerly // Feb 17, 2010 at 11:34 am

    A pity that publishers didn’t pay attention to the customers’ reactions to the big MacMillian/Amazon flap because they’d realize that a customer/publisher paradigm shift is happening.

    I read the commentary at places like Teleread and other sites where ebook consumers hang out, and I saw it.

    Even though the first MacMillian letter was in the trade press, it was soon all over the Internet. Readers reacted with great anger that they were left out of the equation. Didn’t their feelings matter? After all, they were publishing’s true customer, not the middlemen distributors.

    The only response they received for their anger was from writers who either flamed their anger, tried to explain the realities of publishing, or agreed with them.
    Publishers themselves were silent, and this made the readers even angrier.

    With the Internet, publishing blogs, and ebooks, readers now feel like part of the process of publishing, and publishers need to understand that. Customer service isn’t just for the distributors, it’s for the final customer.

    Publishers need to get out there and talk to these consumers and tell them they matter. They need to listen to them. They need to educate them on things like copyright and why publishing can’t wave a magic wand and make books available all over the world instead of in certain markets.

    That’s the kind of entitlement the readers really want.

  • Perry Brass // Feb 17, 2010 at 11:50 am

    The dirty secret is that an ebook is not a book. It is simply a digital file like any other digital file. A digital file of a book could be a digital file of movie, or of a catalogue, or of toilet paper. It is easily downloadable and then deletable. Unlike, say, a shirt, which you can buy online and have delivered to you as a shirt which cannot be deleted (maybe thrown in the garbage, but not deleted), an ebook seems to most people so easily disposable that it’s value immediately becomes devalued. This is the dirty secret that publishing hates, and it will soon enough bring publishing as we know it, as profession that has some professionalism in it, to its knees. It’s a sad state of affair, and even though I know that a lot of fools find work in publishing and have no business there, I am still saddened by it.

  • Theresa M. Moore // Feb 17, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Kassia, you are so right. Readers do have a sense of entitlement, and the publisher are talking down to them. When I post a book of mine for sale, I present it in such a way that the reader does have a choice; though I have not opted to print hardcovers because the cost to print. But I am concerned that the readers’ NOT CARING about the plight of the authors trying to get by is obscuring the real problem. Now that ebooks are almost required reading (sic), the publishers are making the waters muddy by arguing with retailers over price. All it will do is disenfranchise readers who want a good quality book or ebook for an affordable price. The marketplace determines the worth of the product, not those sitting in their corner offices.

  • Pauline Baird Jones // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Bravo! You SO nailed what I’ve been feeling! How dare they take swipes at READERS (particularly when reading is declining!)

    The problem, as I see it, is that NY pubs ignored the eBook market hoping it would go away. It didn’t. While they were ignoring it, prices were set by small independent publishers. Now they want in, but they want to change it to fit their business model.

    Those of us who have been reading eBooks for years and years already have a mental price point–and yes, expectations about when and how we want books available.

    A huge problem with NY ebook releases is that they don’t tell you when it will happen. With a paperback book, you know in a year, give or take a few days after HC release, that book will be available in mass market paper. Or only in mass market with a release date.

    But eBook releases are all over the place. Some books have pre-order option, so don’t. Some release same day or within a few days. Now they are talking weeks or months. If a book I want has a release date for print and eBook, I get to choose how long I want to wait and how much I want to pay. But most don’t give you that option. (And don’t get me started on the eBooks that cost more than the mass market paper edition!)

    I’ve chosen to go e because we are downsizing for retirement. If I don’t know when an e-edition is releasing (and the author doesn’t know because no one is telling her/him) then yeah, I move on. I also have enough books to keep me going for years and years.

  • mkay // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    the problem with your sense of entitlement is that it is just that: a “sense.” No entitlement exists no matter how much you stomp your feet and cry “but I waaaaaant it.” You are a tiny portion of a growing market that has yet to prove its financial viability. You are right–major publishers do not care about you. They care about the larger market and how to compete and stay in business, not whether a small vocal minority is happy.

    It is a myth that the customer is always right. If you don’t want to pay the price, don’t. Someone else will, probably lots of someone elses who are part of a much bigger market that doesn’t think it’s so entitled and understand that books have set costs beyond its distribution. The willful ignorant always think everyone else is condescending.

  • Blue Tyson // Feb 17, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    It’s also a myth to think that ‘someone else will also pay’. Companies die all the time. History is littered with the corpses of those holding this opinion.

    Those crying in their beer about small margins who lose lots of their best customers? Well, things won’t look good for them.

  • mkay // Feb 17, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Blue Tyson: “someone else will also pay” is less a myth than “the customer is always right.”

    Yeah, publishers cry in their beer over small margins–a basic business issue that ebook buyers completely refuse to grasp. Ebook readers, however, are not their “best customers.” Their best customers are who those that value the content of their books and not what they’re made out of.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 17, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Lots of comments and I don’t want to repeat myself (too much). But I do want to respond to @mkay.

    As noted in my response to @melissa, I know the customer isn’t always right, but I also know that doesn’t matter. Either you make the customer feel good about the business relationship or you lose the business. And that was the point of my article. I’m not the one losing here. I suppose book publishers can get by without my business, though the consensus within and without the industry is that every sale is a good thing. Bookstores are closing, sales are, at best flat. Corporate parents are demanding higher returns in an industry where margins are already thin. The pressures facing publishing are not within the industry, they come from every other entertainment industry and every other pressure facing the reading public (including literacy challenges).

    I understand the cost side of publishing books (and if you go back through the archives, you will see that I’ve spoken to the subject for many years, particularly when it comes to the cost of producing ebooks). I cannot be held responsible for bad publishing decisions like overly high advances. I cannot be expected to participate in the nebulous concept of author effort. Either the book is good — and that is the most subjective concept in the world — or it isn’t.

    Again this doesn’t matter to me. Either the book is available to me in way I’ve outlined — and you’ll notice I didn’t define format, price, or even timeframe — or it’s not. I’m not a small, vocal minority. I represent the best customer the publishing industry has. I buy well above the national averge. I buy books even when I get the same titles free from publishers. When I love a book, i talk about it in every forum I can. But I am not disgruntled or even angry. I am disheartened by the industry’s actions, but, as noted, I can go for years without buying a new book without worrying about running out of reading material.

    I’m not so sure I’m being willfully ignorant as I am being clear eyed about the realities of the marketplace. And I will note the deriding use of “entitlement” has been used right in front of me.

    (PS — the ebook market has absolutely proved its viability. I can point you to many examples of successful digital publishing endeavors. Add to that the fact that publishers are aggressively moving into this marketplace, actively trying to control it, and, yes, retooling their entire businesses to exploit it. They see the shift in consumer behavior and they are working to be part of that change.)

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    @L — you raise a tough point. I personally believe all customers should be treated equal. I also understand the crazy economics of book publishing, and realize it’s a tougher sell than it should be. The simple truth is that hardcover makes more money for the publisher than mass market. Prior to the agency model, the ebook was more profitable than the hardcover because the per unit production costs were eliminated (editorial, marketing, etc) remained the same. I suspect the numbers for the agency model result in a reasonable return for publishers.

    I am not sure how to fix this.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 17, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    @rich — I think the price ceiling set in the minds of ebook readers comes as much from Amazon’s effective marketing as it does an entire slew of consumer perceptions about the medium. Poor production quality (oh hey, encountered more bad formatting from a major publisher today!), loss of ephemera (covers, blurbs), disregard for the actual reading experience (but hey, I know every Penguin office worldwide!), lack of portability, loss of first sale rights.

    I think the industry underestimates the consumer awareness of these issues. I think the consumer is far more sensitive, if only on a sub-conscious level, than most of us realize. This the third or fourth digital transition for most people. The transitory nature of the media alone gives one pause. I cannot be certain my media will survive the decade. It’s a trade-off I accept because I want to read in the way that makes me happiest, but it’s a trade-off I mentally factor into price.

  • Polly Henderson // Feb 17, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    From Roman forum to Parisian bookstall, vendors have hawked the latest and hottest for whatever they could get, and yet your colleagues are arguing over whether the customer is always right? Oldtime merchants and had a big sign in their office: “Give the Lady What She Wants!” It works. Do we expect varying levels of movie ticket prices based on Star Power? No, there’s a standard price for movie tickets. So Amazon got it right again: $9.99 . Its psychologically correct. What’s amazing is that they’re aLL MISSING the key factor: people want a quick eBook and then a discount on the print version to keep… yet nobody’s doing it!! Isn’t there anyone in this giant industry who can pull everyone together with a simple standard? If Europe could come together and adopt the Euro, the publishing industry should be able to adopt a simple system to allow eBook buyers to pick up a hard copy of the same book at a discount. That would get a few warm bodies into the bookstores.

  • Anne Wayman // Feb 18, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Kassia does an ebook with a no questions asked guarantee make it easier to spend more? Are there any stats on ebook to hard copy coversion? I’ve always felt about half my ebook buyers buy the hardback too, but I can’t prove it because of the way I published way back when.

    Thanks for this.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 18, 2010 at 11:13 am

    @anne — As far as I know, there are no definitive numbers, but that is as much a factor of a nascent market as it is just plain hard to quantify. I know a few companies are finding the data surrounding ebooks to be more solid, so this question may be answered (somewhat) in the coming year. Based on anecdotal evidence, it really depends on the book.

  • JulieW8 // Feb 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I don’t care if the e-book formats are released at the same time or later than paperback formats. What frosts me is that e-books are being prices somewhere between paperback and hardback, with authors and publishers crying about how everyone wants to pay less for e-books.

    Well – why shouldn’t I expect to pay less? They have no printing costs and distribution costs aren’t as much. There are no chargebacks, no returns. I have nothing tangible. I cannot take it to the used book store and get another one for a small fee.

    I can only store so many digital copies. They’ve made it fairly difficult to transfer or even stores some formats. And unless someone comes up with a used e-book store, at some point I’m going to start deleting what I’ve got to make room for more.

    All of which makes it difficult for me to justify paying the prices being charged. Yes, I have an ebook reader (not Kindle). Yes I have Stanza on my iPhone. But unless the price of ebooks comes down significantly, the ebook reader may just be an expensive gadget I bought and the iPhone will go back to what it was doing before I put books on it – and I’ll go back to the used book store.

    I love the convenience of being able to carry multiple books around on an electronic device – but not at this cost!

  • April L. Hamilton // Feb 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    If it weren’t for all those pesky readers, maybe trade publishing could solve this ebook problem once and for all, eh? ;’)

    But seriously, a great post and one you already know echoes my own sentiments. People at the helm have clearly forgotten what it’s like to be a “mere” reader who actually selects and pays for reading material based on personal tastes, marketing, recommendations, AND budgetary considerations. Seems most of them behave like insiders who read free-of-charge ARCs mostly reactively, based on which upcoming titles stand to compete with their own house’s list, have been deemed “must reads” within the industry before they’ve even hit the street, or have originated from colleagues and industry friends with whom one must be prepared to converse about the books in question with some intelligence the next time paths cross. Price is an abstract, non-impactful concept when one moves in such circles.

    Publishers must overcome this tunnel vision if they ever expect to understand their customers. And by “customers” I mean readers, NOT booksellers. Maybe they should start spending some quality time lurking on reader communities like Shelfari, Goodreads and the Amazon forums—with a willingness to hear what their customers are saying and accept it as valid.

    As I’ve said before, if the customer perceives your product is too expensive and therefore decides not to buy it, it IS too expensive. You can’t talk consumers into paying more just because the seller thinks a given product is worth more than what the market will bear. You can’t guilt or bully them into it, either. You CAN bully consumers into boycotting your products however, as publishers are learning the hard way.

  • Zoe Winters // Feb 18, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    The only kind of entitlement that bugs the hell out of me, is when a reader thinks they should get to read everything for free and artists shouldn’t get paid cause they do creative work instead of boring work in a cubicle (whose choice was that?) Many don’t realize that most writers do boring work in a cubicle PLUS do the hard work of writing.

    If a reader’s only major sense of entitlement toward me and my work is wanting it in ebook and at a reasonable price. Then step right up folks, I got your nice shiny for $2.99 right here.

    As for different formats released at diff times, I’m doing ebook first, then print release, but we’re talking maybe a 6 week window. As an indie it’s a lot easier to get E taken care of and out the door, and then worry about all the print headaches.

  • Clive Warner // Feb 22, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    It appears to me, Kassia, that you are taking Amazon’s corner. The same Amazon that just paid $300,000 to Booklocker in settlement of the “Buy Button” dispute. (And that’s a landmark in its way, but it has not resolved the issue, legally speaking.)

    Naturally since I own a small press you’d expect me to support the publishers stance on this, i.e. The “Agency Model” and in fact, I do; but for the reasons that, first, Amazon is using the 9.99 EBook as a predatory pricing method to corner the market and control EBook revenue.
    and secondly, Kassia, do you really think the Britannica should sell for 9.99 as an EBook? Or, say, (any specialised how-to out of many that sell for very large sums to a very small market); and many other examples of why an EBook’s price should not be limited to a set maximum.
    Third, and such limit is a limit on trade and should not be countenanced any more than a minimum price should be countenanced. If people want to give an EBook away free, well fine, let them. How could you stop them anyway? Impossible.
    Fourth, the very concept of a maximum price limit is inconsistent with the fact that there are many third party sellers on Amazon who charge more, sometimes ludicrously more, for an item freely available at Amazon’s usual discount price.

  • My sense | HunRoom // Dec 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

    [...] My Sense of Entitlement | BooksquareA recent meme in publishing is that some readers are exhibiting a sense of entitlement about buying ebooks. I'd like to humbly offer myself … [...]