Why I won’t buy eBook edition of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (even for $2,99)

4 min read

Or “How retailers prevent customers from buying their goods”

(This article is translated from french. And I’m no professional translater. Forgive me in advance and thank Véronique for her help in making this sound better.)

Neil Gaiman does not need this article to be pointed out as a talented writer.

He wrote Sandman, a graphic novel which bas been published countless times and even benefited from the addition of an Ultimate version and a very documented annoted one. He famously wrote Stardust, which became a movie, American Gods, which he is currently adapting for TV, and collaborated with Sir Terry Pratchett on Good Omens. If you have enjoyed these novels, they should be enough of a motivation to read more from this author.

Neil Gaiman is an active user of Twitter. He tweets to communicate with fans, passes on their requests for help in crowfunding projects and, of course, promotes his own work. When he announced that the electronic version of his novel Neverwhere was available at a discounted price of $2.99, I went straight to Amazon. All in all, $2.99 is really a good bargain for a good book.
First, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks: Amazon sells electronic books… for its own platform : the Kindle. You can, of course, install the eponymous app on your smartphone and gain access to your books from another device, but it’s a tough start. Then, you bump on the DRMs. They are as famous as Neil Gaiman but not for the same good reasons. DRMs are software protections preventing you from transfering a file from a device to another one.
In other words, only the buyer can read what he bought. He can’t lend his book unless he lends the device itself.
This is what I call an abomination in the first place. I read American Gods thanks to Cochon Dingue, who passed it on to me. ‘Cause, you know, we’re friends, so we exchange books and reading advices from time to time. As a sad consequence, if you stick to the narrow-minded majors and retailers logics, we do buy less books. They don’t envisage a split second that through borrowing, I effectively read a first Gaiman book, expressed all the good things I was thinking about it, bought Anansi Boys, praised it in its own time, possibly inspiring some of my fellows readers to read these two books and… buy them.

Jean-Marc Manach finds most regrettable that a publisher sent journalists traceable electronic books. That company quite clearly forgot that a copy “running around” would be prone to encounter more readers – therefore more advertisers for the writer and his publisher – than a controled (as in jailed) one.

I regret that the current version of electronic books praises the commercial aspect of books over the social one. In a world where social networks are used as advertising platforms, I can only describe this as schizophrenia : “Talk about it but don’t let people make their own judgment without paying us”.
Let’s admit I’m a rich selfish guy. I could not be bothered to let my friends (what friends ?) enjoy my cheerful book discovery (this hypothesis would however imply that I stop this article right now, but let’s not digress too much). Following this basic assumption, note I could be compared to Ebenezer Scrooge : I build my fortune carefully saving each and every penny.

What do you think I do then, when I see a $2.99 deal for a good book ? I jump on it, click on the link and adquire, for a very reasonable price tag, a quality novel I shall keep for my own use.

So. What is my reaction when I see on Amazon that I can buy the book at a wonderful price of no less than 7 euros, just because I’m buying it from France ?
Books in foreign languages have always been more expensive than their translated counterparts – which I struggle to explain : the translator’s work should bear more value than the transportation of printed paper, even when taxed before and after crossing the Atlantic, the Channel, the Rhine or the Pyrenees.
How can an electronic book store add up to the costs when an electronic book doesn’t need to be stocked, carried or refunded when unsold. Taxes apart, it can’t. BUT the retailer store can make a little more money just because… because… well because money is good, especially when you hand it to them.
I have recommended English books before : I did it with Max Brooks’ World War Z. I even bought it in English, then in French as a present to my best friend.

Just to make it clear, I don’t blame Neil Gaiman, who’s been clear about the benefits he sees in piracy. I’m just sorry that he, and his readers, are victims of retailers pretending to defend artistic creation, when actually building walls to keep their benefits.

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