On January 8th, the long awaited final edition in the Wheel of Times series was released in hardcover. The ebook, however, was no where to be found, and won’t be available until April 9th. Hardcover only releases have existed for years, but where people were once willing to wait six-months or a year for the “cheaper version” paperback, ebook readers are not so inclined, and book producers need to beware their wrath. From my understanding it was Rober’s widow, Harriet McDougal, who insisted on the delay, and if I were to guess her mindset it probably went something like this:
- ebooks make it to easy to pirate the book, and it will show up minutes after release on torrent sites
- Hardcovers, with their higher price, make more money than ebooks and will cannibalize the earnings
- It’s only four months, the series has taken more than two decades to be “fully told” so four months is nothing
The result of this three month delay, however, resulted in turning ardent fans of the series into disgruntled customers. Within just a few days the 1-star reviews topped 200 with comments such as:
- “Late eBook = No Money for Tor”
- “No eBook! Poor Publishing Decision“
- “No Kindle Edition= No Buy”
- “Profoundly disappointing”
While having a book with a 2.5-star rating may dissuade a book by an unknown author, these 1-star reviews are not going to effect the sales of A Memory of Light, but what will is a backlash that since the publisher and Harriet are “being greedy” that it is all right for them to pirate the books. Many have cited that if the book was available they would would purchased it right away, but as it is not they went to the torrent sites and got free copies (yes, it was available on torrents, almost as quickly – it doesn’t take long to scan a book with today’s OCR technology.
Will some of those who pirated the book later on come back and buy a legal copy? It’s hard to say. My guess is if they love the book they’ll do exactly that. If they are disappointed, then they’ll see this a way of sending a message that the decision was wrong in the first place. A few will boycott the last book altogether.
To me the delay has caused more ill will, and resulted in a probable loss of income, that just wasn’t worth separating the releases.
I think if they were not constrained, Tor would probably have put out the versions out simultaneously, and I implore publishers and authors to learn from this mistake and realize that the ebook revolution is now firmly entrenched. Interestingly enough, I got a tweet yesterday from a reader of my work asking if my upcoming release of The Crown Tower would have a simultaneous release in both versions come August. I was able to answer the question without reservation, because I had explicitly added language about simultaneous releases during the contract negotiation and Orbit had agreed. I did this so that I wouldn’t find myself, or my books, on the receiving end of similar ire. I hope that other book releases learn from this mistake.