So what with this, that, and the other, Booksquare has been a bit quiet lately. The world of digital publishing has been amazingly active, and — oh! — filled with more rumors, speculation, and nonsense than even I can stomach*. Which means the important news gets buried as the digerati chase the next bright and shiny thing.
I have been very much focused on Moving Forward. Which means thinking about how publishing can position itself for the next year, the next five years, the next ten years, heck, the next century. One thing I know for sure is that nobody knows for sure how things will look at any one of those points in time. The best publishers can do is to figure out what they do (not as easy as you’d imagine!), and, more importantly, how they can best position themselves to take advantage of the inevitable shifts in the business.
So, today, a small discussion about a small aspect of this change. I say small because I am addressing an isolated incident. I think it’s worthy of attention because it covers so many of the big issues facing publishing right now.
Neal Stephenson, a favorite author of mine (gotta love a guy who can make every single page of a 900-page book compelling), recently released Reamde in hardcover and ebook. This was an anticipated book from a highly-regarded author. Which means, you know, there was a devoted audience ready to buy the book — in the appropriate format — on day one. Also, the audience has a geeky element, which may play into this story.
The husband reads a bit slower than I do, so I gave him a head start on the book. One night, he said to me (and I paraphrase), “Have you noticed anything weird about the Kindle edition?” I had not because I hadn’t started the book (I did not want to mention the head start thing to protect his ego and all that).
So I started the book. And I noticed. Oh, I noticed. Conversion errors galore! Okay, maybe five conversion errors in my first half-hour of reading. Anything that jerks me out of the flow of a story — and, boy, do conversion errors do that! — is a Bad Thing.
We weren’t alone. Lots of people noticed the problems. Amazon pulled the book from the Kindle store. HarperCollins staff did amazing work to fix the errors. The turnaround in getting a new version was a few days. Amazon politely communicated that the new version was available rather than switching it out willy nilly (I am not sure that means what I think it means, but there you have it.).
However, the reason given by Amazon for the new edition was “missing content”. Which bothered more than a few readers. What, they asked, was missing? It made readers wonder if they had to reread the book. Yeah, those who’d finished the book, errors and all, were not happy campers.
A reader had to create a Diff File — a file that details the differences between the original file and the new file. In the end, there wasn’t much missing content, and nothing major was omitted (trust me when I say omission of major content happens more often than it should).
Lesson: The publisher should have been all over this. As soon as possible. If only because it is great customer service to let readers know if that 900-page book they just read was missing major elements.
But wait, there’s more!
There is much talk in the industry about making direct connection with readers. Opening the lines of communication is, from what I understand, a major goal. Granted, HarperCollins had to communicate with readers via Amazon (since they don’t, sigh, have that direct relationship with readers; see: where I’ve talked about this before). But every opportunity to make a connection is important.
Good will is important. Critical. Essential.
HarperCollins did amazing work in fixing the problem. As someone who paid $16.99 for the book, I am happy they did this. However (you knew there was a however, right?), what happened next just killed my feelings of goodwill.
Within days of notifying me there was a fixed edition of Reamde available, HarperCollins lowered the price of the ebook to $14.99. Yeah, the book I bought, couldn’t read due to annoying problems, had to redownload, wondered if the missing content impacted what I’d read…was now cheaper for everyone who hadn’t already gone through that rigamarole.
I waited for a notice telling me I’d been credited two dollars — not, I admit, a lot of money, but it’s the principle, not the amount. I waited in vain. I feel this is a serious missed opportunity. Why do this to your best readers? The people who worked hardest to buy and read a book you produced?
So, yeah, it’s a really good book. Really good. But today, as I learn that Stephenson and Greg Bear are publishing The Mongoliad: Book One with 47North, Amazon’s new sci fi/fantasy/horror imprint, I have questions.
Lesson Two? Respect your readers. Please.
* – It turns out I have less tolerance for headlines that read “Will The Kindle Fire be An Eternal Flame?” than I thought. If you have to ask a silly question in your headline, you are doing it wrong. So says the ghost of Mary Beth Lucas, journalism teacher, Cabrillo Senior High School.