A cautionary tale for authors and agents

You know, I shove a tanto in my gut and bleed all over the interwebz about my issues with embedded font evangelism in the name of book designer job security, then I get over it and I think I’m done.

Well, Penguin Books has reminded me this morning that not only am I not done, I’m now pissed off as a reader and not as a writer/publisher/e-book mark-up-er, except . . . this is really not about Teh Pretteh. It’s about DRM. I’m fighting the wrong battle. The book designers can go figure out their own lives. I’m a reader first, dammit.

Way back in the day (six months ago), Penguin offered the novella “You Can Count on Me” by Roxanne St. Clair as a free PDF download you could snag from Ms. St. Clair’s site. (It’s not there anymore.) It was part of a Christmas anthology called I’ll Be Home For Christmas and features characters from her long-running series called The Bullet Catchers. I believe there are currently three books in this series, with probably more to come.

Now, I don’t like romantic suspense and I don’t like anthologies and I don’t like Christmas romance novellas, but this looked like a good way to ease me into a romantic suspense series that already had me intrigued.

And it was free. No question.

Yet I forgot the cardinal rule of life: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Dear Penguin:

You suck. And not in the good, hot, naughty kind of way.

The novella is 97 PDF pages long, but it’s 5.25 MB. Why? BECAUSE IT’S A SCAN WITH A BIG FAT KANGAROO WATERMARK ON EACH PAGE.

To give you an idea of how big this is, my 736-page doorstopper’s PDF
is 7 MB. 736 pages >97 pages.

I converted this novella before I realized it was a scan. Easy enough. PDF–>RTF–>IMP.

Except it wouldn’t load onto my eBookWise. WHY WHY WHY? Well, because it’s just too big. The IMP file is 68 MB.

To sum up: Not only am I NOT going to read this free PDF (because I don’t read books on my computer), I’m also going to dump it from my computer (which I never do because even the bad books still belong to me) because it’s a space hog and severely cramps my Vostro’s innards when it tries to open the damned file, and I’m going to remember Ms. St. Clair (poor dear, I know it’s not her fault) for this and only this.

You cost me a lot of time with your chastity-belted freebie, time I could’ve used to make money to buy the anthology the novella came from and buy more of Ms. St. Clair’s work if I liked the novella.

Perhaps authors and agents negotiating contracts with you would do well to remember that your DRM process never gave me a chance to get hooked off your free hit.



Update @8:38 p.m. It was just pointed out to me that the PDF file didn’t actually have any DRM on it. It was just a wildly bloated scanned-and-watermarked PDF. The effect, however, is the same: Make it as difficult as possible for the consumer to read the book. Every time I open the PDF, whatever else is in those graphics (it’s a scan, remember), it nearly crashes my computer.

One could argue that this is where book design and fear of piracy converge to create a virtually (heh) unusable product.

7 thoughts on “A cautionary tale for authors and agents

  • June 28, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Whoa! Why dump it? Wouldn’t it be perfect to read on your future EeePC?

  • June 28, 2009 at 11:27 am

    It took 5 minutes to open on my laptop and froze everything else up in the process. I think not.

  • June 28, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Did you send a copy of this to Ms St Clair? She might be interested to know how off-putting it was, even if Penguin doesn’t care.

  • June 28, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Not yet. Hadn’t thought about it, really, because it’s not her fault.

  • June 28, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Besides, if you sent it and it crashed *her* PC, she’d blame YOU.

  • July 1, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you, ma’am!


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