I Come Not to Praise Hatchette…


Creative Commons photo by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr

To: Michael Pietch, Hatchette CEO

cc: The Internet

Dear Michael Pietch,

As someone who has, myself, worked in publishing for three decades, as an avid reader, as a professional writer, and as a small-press publisher, I’m perpetually amazed—and frustrated—at the high prices traditional publishers put on ebooks.

To be frank, it’s silly to expect readers to pay anything near the same for an ebook as for a print book—an ebook they cannot resell at a used-book store or garage sale, nor lend conveniently to a friend or family member, nor donate to Goodwill.

For years, I’ve watched Microsoft, and Adobe, and Penguin, and Hatchette—to name a few—gouge buyers for prices equal to or higher than paperback prices, sometimes offering bogus incentives like early access to a text. And as a reader, I’ve felt insulted.

Meanwhile, Apple managed to teach the music industry that 99 cents was a reasonable, sustainable price for songs. Ebooks should follow a similar model. Scads of titles are selling well at 99 cents, or $2..99, or $5.99, rather than $9.99 and higher. Many authors have even learned the trick of giving away a first book in a series as a loss leader, trusting that fans will pay for sequels.

As a reader, each time I’ve encountered a $9.99 or higher title, I’ve taken note of the publisher and simply refused to buy anything from them. I’ve noted who was involved in price collusion (Hatchette, for example), and marked them as anathema.

And I’ve actively used social-media to promote more appropriately priced ebooks, posted reviews praising those books, and gifted those books to friends and colleagues.

Because the fact of the matter is this: Thousands upon thousands of excellent titles exist at low prices. There is no shortage on great things to read; quite the opposite, in fact.

So actually, I suppose I should be thankful that Hatchette and its ilk, along with authors fearful of the information age, continue to fight for ridiculously high prices. While the giant dinosaurs of publishing stamp about and roar, the tiny new primates of publishing learn to survive and thrive.

So thank you for being unreasonable.

And if the tone of this email has been less than friendly, your company’s treatment of its readers and authors alike has shown that you are not in the business of friendliness. To paraphrase the Bard, and to bend an old saw back upon itself, “I come not to praise Hatchette, but to bury it.”


Lester Smith

2 thoughts on “I Come Not to Praise Hatchette…

  • August 9, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I’ve a much more positive view. Many winners exist in this scenario. More authors than ever are able to publish, and find an audience, without bankrupting themselves stocking and shipping books from their garage. Readers have a wider choice than ever. And social media means we can pass recommendations easily, so that the best gets read and the worst dies away. The only real losers are traditional authors, big publishers, and Madison Avenue, which will all be extincted if they don’t get aboard the Information Age train. Amazon isn’t screwing me as reader, as author, or as publisher. It’s making my life easier in all three regards.

  • August 9, 2014 at 9:51 am

    There’s only a guaranteed group of losers in this fight between the billionaires…the public and the authors. I agree with you on what aging thieves the publishers are but the eBook companies are just the younger thieves. It’s like what I heard comedian Barry Crimmins say, Capitalism is falling apart because the FDR-era reforms have been crippled and the corporations are running out of people to screw.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.