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I just read this NY Times article (via) and I’m noticing a trend that’s really starting to infuriate me. It’s the use of the word “entitlement” by publishers and authors to describe their own customers.

In this article, author and complete jerk Douglas Preston is featured in this paragraph:

“The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”

This kind of thing drives me absolutely insane. The ebook release of Preston’s book is delayed by four months because Preston and his publishers want their hardcover money. According to those publishers, Impact‘s “real price” is $26. Speaking of entitlement.

But let’s see some peasants brandish pitchforks. Exactly what are the outrageously entitled Wal-Mart Americans saying? Here’s another paragraph from the article:

“I just don’t want to be extorted,” said Joshua Levitsky, a computer technician and Kindle owner in New York. “I want to pay what it’s worth. If it costs them nothing to print the paper book, which I can’t believe, then they should be the same price. But I just don’t see how it can be the same price.”

Hmm. That’s logical, sound, completely unentitled thinking. For years, publishers have been charging $20 or more for “hardcover” books, implying that some of that cost goes toward the actual production materials. Now, with ebooks, they’re trying to charge the same price for brand new ebooks as they charge for the outlandishly expensive hardcover editions.

The problem with this isn’t that customers are “entitled” to think they should get ebooks cheaper. The problem with this is that no publisher has yet advanced any logical explanation as to why the ebook editions SHOULDN’T be cheaper than the hardcovers. The burden of proof is on the publishers, and they haven’t convinced anybody.

Furthermore, it infuriates me when publishers think or believe that just because their pricing system has been a certain way in the past, that’s the way it should be forever. $26 is not the “real price” of a book. Dan Brown is not worth $26, Sarah Palin is not worth $26. And let’s face it, Douglas Preston isn’t worth $26. (You can just tell by his hair, can’t you?)

In reality, the hardcover of Impact goes for $14.29 at Amazon. If you want customers to pay more than $9.99 for the ebook edition, start by showing them a formula that goes something like this: [hardcover price] – [paper, ink, cardboard, and shipping costs] = [ebook price]. To sell a hardcover for $14 and then argue that the “real price” of the ebook version is up to $15…  sheer madness.

Now, I do think publishers should be able to set their own prices. I also think Macmillan is incredibly stupid to raise their prices $5 per ebook. I hope it brings them to their knees. Fine, though, it’s up to them.

But when rich, bestselling hack authors (Preston’s crapped out more than a dozen novels in the past decade) start insulting their own readers, things are taking a wrong turn. It’s not readers’ “absolutely astonishing sense of entitlement” that makes us think technological advancement should bring down production costs, it’s basic common sense. And no matter how many times publishers say ebooks are expensive to make, it will never make sense to charge the same amount.