Iain Banks, Stephen King, Maeve Binchy, Elizabeth Buchanan and Michael McIntyre were among those authors whose books were given new, low-ranking reviews on the basis of their Kindle ebook price, as part of a concerted attempt by readers to voice their displeasure.
Earlier this week, Amazon.co.uk was forced to accept new commercial terms from big publishers Penguin, Hachette and HarperCollins, who have switched to the “agency model” for their ebooks. On this model it is publishers, not retailers, who set the selling price.
Amazon’s own discounts disappeared from ebooks overnight. Many digital editions now cost the same as printed books, with some costing more.
Readers responded angrily. Among more than 600 comments on the Kindle forum at Amazon.co.uk were many accusing the publishers of greed.
In a review of Iain M Banks’s novel Surface Detail, one Banks fan protests: “As a ‘Culture’ fan and Kindle owner I would have bought this book, but not when the digital version costs more than the hardback. Now I won’t buy either. Do the publishers have some bizarre vested interest in driving people to torrent sites?”
A Stephen King reader complains in a review of King’s backlist book Just After Sunset: “The Kindle price for this book is absurd. I suggest people do not buy any version of this book until the publisher stops this farce.”
Elizabeth Buchanan, whose latest novel Separate Beds is among those being targeted by the protest reviews, said she was “extremely sorry that books and authors are the victims of this debate which should have been sorted by now”.
Buchanan suggested that readers’ anger was “perhaps a reflection of how the perception has changed of what book prices should be”. She expressed concern that authors would suffer if that perception dropped too low to make writing and publishing books sustainable. “Is a danger point approaching where books are so cheap that no one can make a living?” she asked.
Banks’s literary agent, Mic Cheetham, said she could see both sides of the argument. “Publishers don’t want their hardback prices undercut by ebooks, and that’s fair enough,” she said. “Readers would like something very cheap, but publishers simply can’t afford to see their market totally wiped out.”
HarperCollins director of communications, Siobhan Kenny, said: “Of course readers demand good value for money. And I am sure they are equally keen to see a vibrant marketplace.” The agency model helps to encourage that, Kenny argued, “facilitating multiple channels to market while offering consumers a fair and competitive price to drive sales and limit piracy”.
The row coincides with the announcement that Ian Fleming‘s James Bond novels are to be published in ebook form for the first time this week – but not by Penguin, Fleming’s print publisher. The 14 books, including Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and From Russia With Love, are being published independently by Ian Fleming Publications, the family company that owns and administers the author’s literary copyright. The Fleming ebooks would be priced “in line with the lowest-priced Bond paperback editions available on the market”, the company said.