So John Scalzi, a man I normally find myself agreeing with most of the time, has posted something I feel obliged to comment on. Not that he shouldn’t delete comments however the whime takes him, but his reasoning is something I object to.
I take issue with the idea that criticising price of a product I’m buying is “entitlement.” Quite the opposite in fact, I think it’s quite reasonable. When reviewing any product out there, price is usually considered a factor. Whether I’m buying new plates, new cushions, new furniture, food, a painting, clothes, a holiday – you name it, price is normally considered an acceptable element to criticise. I don’t see why books are such a hallowed product that we should not stoop to commenting on the crassness of price.
And yes, I do think there is often a problem with ebook pricing. I do find it dubious that some ebooks are priced at the same level as paperback – or even hardback books. I’m quite sure there are people rushing forward to tell me why this is so and it isn’t just inflated profit margins – and by all means do – but to say the very criticism of price is a sense of entitlement is grossly dismissive. Yes, as a producer, the publishers can set any price they want on their product – most certainly. And as a consumer, I can complain about said pricing and even comment on whether something is worth the money it costs. Because that is what consumers – and most certainly reviewers – do.
Nor do I support the idea that we shouldn’t criticise a book for things the author doesn’t have complete control over. Yes we should mention that it’s not the author’s fault – but the complete product in my hands is what I am critiquing – and if that includes things like a grossly offensive or ridiculous cover, or the fact it is ridiculously over-priced then that is worthy of comment. After all, as we found in the recent YA drama, many publishers are actively pushing to have GBLT protagonists replaced with straight folks. So do we stop criticising erasure as well? For that matter, I’m sure publishers, editors and “market forces” force a lot of fuckery on an author – but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to criticise them when they end up in the book And no, I don’t think it makes you a dick because you criticise the product you have bought rather than some ephemeral dream product the author imagined but wasn’t actually the finished book.
And can I say how tired I am of the idea that any criticism of a book could hurt the poor author’s fee-fees… look I know there’s an ongoing belief that any artistic creator is an over-emotional ball of nerves inclined to have hissy fits or the screaming meemies, but I refuse to disrespect them like that. Partly because I’ve met many authors who are quite capable of headbutting any critic into submission while simultaneously stomping an angry alligator to death, but also because I refuse to believe that authors are more delicate, fragile flowers than any other professional provider of an artistic product. If I go out for a meal and am served quenelles of over-salted crap between smears of pureed kitchen scraps, then I will complain (and have) not worry about the chef’s delicate little fee-fees. If I order furniture that wobbles and collapses then I will complain to the carpenter (well, in the unlikely event of my furniture actually seeing a carpenter at any point in its existence).
That’s not to say that a mean, spiteful “review” that constitutes an attack on the author isn’t a bad thing – it is. But I’m tired of the idea that authors are so fragile that even reasoned criticism is just going to be too much and just too awful for their preciousness.
I don’t think ebook readers are special snowflakes. But nor are authors.