Sunday, August 8, 2010

DORCHESTER: Is It Really A Surprise?

The news has broken that Dorchester will be going 100% to an ebook/print on demand model with trade paperbacks when printed books are ordered, starting September, 2010. It’s sent shockwaves through out the industry.

What's interesting in this Dorchester brouhaha is it's not unexpected, really. I’ve been observing the effect of Print On Demand and e-books on the publishing field the last three years. Some of you may remember I was the marketing/promotion director of a small indie press with a lot of potential, which sadly it didn’t live up to and so we parted ways. I knew the potential impact of Print On Demand technology and e-books on the traditional publishers' business (toner-based/offset printing vs digital). For them to survive they would have to look at this new technology and create their own business platform around it.

If you've been carefully watching, most of the big publishers have been busy behind the scenes shoring up e-pub business platform (which represents a little less than 3% of the US book market with with toner-based/digital claiming 6%, according to Forbes).  All are securing that part of the business. They’ve created minor scandals with authors’ e-book rights. Publishers are first and foremost big business. They’re in it for the money. They’ve seen the handwriting on the wall. Fact is Print On Demand is a more viable business platform than traditional toner/offset.  

Even if they contract with a print on demand company, publishers will save money by filling an order with trade paperbacks for bookstore A and another amount for bookstore B without costly warehousing and will dramatically cut the cost of returns. Backlists will be more easily accessible too.

Out of print?  Not with digital unless the publisher wants to retire a book. If they’re smart, publishers will be signing new contracts with e-format releases and trade paperbacks after an author proves themselves as a moneymaker or they will start some debut authors out in e-format first and if they make their money back they will release those books to print, but I doubt it will be mass paperback, for long.

Most of the publishers are doing a percentage of trade paperbacks as it is. If they use a trade paperback format at all, you can bet they're considering POD/trade paperbacks in long run. All I can say is regardless of your publisher make sure your agents are using a fine toothcomb when it comes to your digital rights. It has to have profit benefits for the author as well as the publisher. I think agents are becoming savvier in the area of e-formats, if the agent blogs I’ve been reading are an indication.

I also think the big publishers have looked long and hard at companies like Samhain who uses POD technology and puts out the print version, for those who order it, in trade paperback. Samhain has a staff of editors, has guideline standards for submissions, and has access to art professionals to turn out outstanding book covers. They don't publish any old thing submitted. E-books are not vanity press. I'm afraid many people associate trade paperbacks with vanity or very small publishers that don't have staffs in insure the quality of their product.

Australia has used trade paperback format for years rather than mass paperback format. When their books make here, they convert it to mass. Several Aussie authors told me about that. I didn't know before then.

What does it mean for writers looking to be published in the next few years? Royalty/advance changes. Tighter standards for POD technology books even in e-book or trade paperback. Bigger houses will still have the advantage. They have a long standing reputation and the name to make the transition to POD profitable. But their standards will be just high as they are now. They have to demonstrate quality and profit and I think they will. Bottom line is, regardless of the format they're presented, in content books are books. Authors are still authors and will still have to be paid for their work. That isn't going to change.

What about promotion of e-books and digital vs mass market print? Word-of-mouth has always been the best way to sell a book--and the Web represents the best word-of-mouth medium.  There will be countless opportunities for books to get viral publicity on Blogs, social networks, and YouTube.

My personal opinion, as most of this is, based on assimilation of what I’ve read over the last few years, print books aren’t going to disappear in the next decade, maybe not in the next twenty. I do believe the method of creating and delivering those books will change. A lot.

I don't like the manner Dorchester used to announce their decision. That wasn't kosher. In this transition period authors should have been warned and given options. But of course Dorchester will have factored in the future revenues based on those signed contracts over the next two years and perhaps they didn’t want to lose it. That's speculation on my part. I know from reading several sources, Dorchester is hoping to keep it's recently signed authors.
It will be interesting to see how this big publisher handles the transition and I’m sure others will be watching and taking notes as well.

  • What are your thoughts on this?

  • What do you think about reading your favorite author’s books in a trade paperback as opposed to mass paperback? As an e-book?

This weeks guests:

Wednesday: Terry Spear
Friday: 2010 Prism winner, Judi Fennell


Mason Canyon said...

The more I read about publishing company changing, the more I realize at some point I'm going to have to get an e-reader of some sort. If I don't, I'll never be able to leave my computer again.

It sounds like Dorchester could have made their announcement in a nicer way.

Thoughts in Progress

Kat Sheridan said...

I hated the way Dorchester sprang this on their authors, from what I've heard from them. And I'm personally not at all fond of trade paperbacks, although I do buy a small percentage of them, especially if that's the only way to get an author I love. I just hate the added expense of them, and they feel awkward to me. I am a big fan of e-books, and read a lot of them, but I have a special regard for my autographed paper books.

Think about some of the big author signings at RT and RWA. Folks love to meet the authors and have books signed. Hard to do that for an e-book.

I just hope other publishers move to this model with more foresight, and that authors carefully read contracts not only for royalties, but for specific terms of when the rights revert to the author ("out of print" is NOT a valid term in this case).

K. A. Laity said...

One of my friends had a book coming out from Dorchester this November -- and found out about this change from the PW article. They definitely dropped the ball.

Anyone with a lick of sense could have seen the tide turning. I understand that most people fear change, but publishers aren't going to have a choice if they want to stay afloat. Big changes ahead -- physical books probably aren't going to disappear altogether, but they will become a luxury item for a specialist market. People who grow up reading ebooks won't have the same sentimental attachment as we do to the dusty pages; but they'll want to meet the authors and have their pictures taken with them :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, I don't like the way Dorchester sprung it on their authors either. It was poorly done and show a lack of respect and regard for their stable of authors. The way they handled it does not build loyalty.

I've gotten used to trade paperbacks. The quality of the paper is nicer than mass, but the price is higher than I like to pay as they average $13. There is no *out of print* since it's a digital file.

~Sia McKye~ said...

No one likes change really. But you are correct in your assessment, the publishers have to change with the times to stay afloat.

What's really funny is Random house had the files of so many books and should have capitalized on that and instead Amazon has taken it and successfuly made a business around it. It's a bit of the ostrich approach. For any business to succeed in this eeconomic climate, they have to keep an eye on new approaches and technology to boost their profits. Amazing to me that publishers are five steps behind and now running trying to catch up.

I agree, the tech savvy generation is more attracted to the gadgets rather than the **dusty* we grew up with. For sure the future of print media will be a specialized one.

Reminds me of Science Fiction I read in the 70's as a kid with electronic everything. Remember Star Trek when it first came out? Books were on the computers, lol!

Olivia Cunning said...

I'll be interested to see how this all pans out in the end and if other mid-sized (and larger) publishers follow in Dorchester's footsteps. I do hope if they change to a POD model they are more upfront about it to their authors. Scary times out there for those of us who are debuting in the near future. How does one get "discovered" if there are no books on the shelf to browse?

I actually like trade paperback format better than mass market, but the lower price of mass market is nice. Especially for the non-keepers in my collection.

BTW, Love the picture of the rocker hottie you have right before Backstage Passes' cover in your slide show. He looks like I imagine Sed to look. Hot, hot, hot. *wink

Cheryl Brooks said...

This is very similar to what the speaker at the PAN retreat at RWA had to say. He predicted a time when everything would be in e-format. When I asked him where we would have book signings if there were no bookstores, he said we would have better contact with readers via the internet. While this is true, meeting readers in person is hard to beat.
This all reminds me of that ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."
The times are certainly interesting, and, to quote Bob Dylan, they are a changin'!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Olivia, good business ethics dictate up front especially with contracted personell since it directly effects them. Dorchester definitely dropped the ball on that front!

With every new technology, we always find ways to promote our work within that arena. So promotion is very much a word of mouth thing.

As for the rocker dude, lol. funny you should mention that, it reminds me of him too. :-D

~Sia McKye~ said...

Cheryl, think there can still be face to face with authors. People love to meet them. I'm sure we'll come up with ways to handle that. Look at the movie's all on screen but we se still can meet the actors.

Other Lisa said...

I prefer trade paperbacks to mass market (which I find hard to read). And I love hardbacks. I still don't have an eReader, kind of waiting to see how it all shakes out. I think that the ePub/POD model makes a lot of sense, personally, and I'd probably rather read ePub than mass market paperback. So for me, that would be the biggest change--I'd swap out mass market for an eReader.

Otherwise, I'll still be buying books. And I sometimes wonder if the instant availability of eBooks is not going to cut into paper sales as much as it will increase book sales period. That's the optimist in me. I know that for most bookstore owners, they operate on such narrow margins that the slightest drop in sales may be enough to sink them.

Other indie bookstores are thriving though. These are the stores that have figured out how to make themselves vital to a community.

So, yeah. Interesting.

tonya kappes said...

Hi Sia. Such a crazy topic. I still love my books. A good friend of mine got a kindle over a year ago and was so excited to get it. His birthday came around this week and I asked about his gift from last year (the kindle) and his reply, 'I haven't used it excpet for newspapers. I just have to have that book in my hand.' He's not a writer, just a reader....

Ken Coffman said...

I find all this chaos and turmoil interesting. The barriers to offering a book to the public are collapsing and there will be more options for the reading public. I can imagine in the near future one million new books in a year. Wow! If I'm only interested in the top 1%--the beautiful pinnacle of our art, then there will be a lot more books to choose from. That's not bad is it? Well, it is if you're trying to make a living as a writer, I suppose.
As a publisher, I'll tell you what I don't like...covers stripped off books and returned. That's wasteful and stupid. Maybe I have a simplistic attitude, but I don't care where a revenue dollar comes from. POD, e-book, Amazon sales, shopping cart sales, sales from the trunk of my's all good. I don't see any reason to make things complex. Take a sales dollar, subtract direct costs (if any) and send the author half of what's left. Why does it have to be any more complex than that?

VA said...

I enjoy the physical relationship with the book, that said, my darling husband just purchased an iPad. I already do a lot of reading online, mostly journals for research. My pleasure reading is away from the computer.

Yes, I look for new authors online. I find sites like this one and trawl reading excerpts. A good excerpt will get me out of my chair, in the car, and drive to the bookstore where I'll purchase the book and finish reading it.

In the end, at this point in my life fiction is entertainment. Not so for my daughter who still has assigned reading. How we interact with the book is different. Even with her books: Clockwork Orange, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Shipping News, King Lear, e.g. though she could read them online if I purchase the book then when she's done if she doesn't want it we can donate it to the local library.

Me? I want to be entertained, I don't like most of what's on the television and movie releases I like are spotty at best, so my favorite escape is a BOOK. Let's face it a mass market book costs less than a single movie ticket, even matinee.

Dorchester's handling of the situation- shameful. It's just inappropriate and rude. My sympathies to the affected authors. Truly tragic, I know they spent a good deal of time making this decision, if only they had spent a bit more discussing the execution of it.

K. A. Laity said...

Ken says "As a publisher, I'll tell you what I don't like...covers stripped off books and returned. That's wasteful and stupid."

I had an interesting conversation with editor John Douglas at Necon; he said real change will occur only when returns and stripping end and that the time is coming, but the impetus for that change will have to come from outside, e.g. a government investigation of the waste generated by this practice.

No bookstore is going to ask for it to end; no publisher will want to be the first to demand it. What other industry operates on this insanely wasteful system?

Judi Fennell said...

This is why it pays to do your homework when looking at a publisher. Sadly, the writing was on the wall when D*rchstr sold off their best selling authors. How do you keep money coming in if your biggest sellers are gone?

Narrowing of competition in any industry is dangerous, and with publishing on the shaky ground it is now, it's doubly so.

An interesting take on the ePub vs. print from a recent conference. An Industry Professional (20+ yrs in the biz at a HIGH level) said that while ePub might cost less due to no warehousing/shipping, it's going to cost MORE to market it now that there's a glut in the market of eBooks. So it'll be that much harder to get your books noticed as a newer author. I'm just thankful for co-op at the big chains; I know I've gotten a lot of readers from that and the amazing covers my publisher puts out.

Anonymous said...

Sia, fine post. The publishing business is changing before our eyes, but it's painful to see the skid marks when a publisher like Dorchester miscalculates their business models. I love my paper books -- trade or mass market -- but can imagine a time when reading from an e-tablet will be more convenient for situations like traveling.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Ken, I deplore and always have, the waste of books being pulped. Tumoil indeed. But isn't that the way it always is when change is in the wind?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Judi, my thoughts are there is a glut, if you will, of books period. Good writers get noticed because they work hard to promote. With Electronis or print both author and publisher have to be able to make their product stand out from the masses of similar products. I don't think promotion methods will change, or basics of them, but I do think there will be more and more creative ways to market and promote using the internet. Technology is constantly changing and improving. There are a lot of unplumbed web opportunities. I agree money spent on advertising will increase. Of course it will, but I think that's true whether it's e or print format.

The advantage of the chains and the simultaneous release nationwide is a big thing and that in conjuction with more savvy author promoting makes a book standout in the *crowd* so to speak. Absolutely, creative cover get attention, but good writing and a good story keeps the attention enough for a reader to want to buy it. Then word of mouth comes into play to build a continued interest in the next release.

~Sia McKye~ said...

James, I'm sure the road burns on the Dorchester authors' bodies are painful. Business loyalty is going by the wayside. Will Dorchester succeed? *shrugs, who knows. Depends upon reader loyalty, keeping the price down on their products, skillfully blending e and print, and aggressively marketing them. They have some obstacles to overcome in bringing in new authors, epecially with some of their top moneymaking authors are no longer with them but the competition.

I'll admit, I love books. I can, like you, see some advantages to reading devices that can store hundreds of stories.

Helen Ginger said...

Excellent post, Sia. There are plenty of us (including myself here) that don't have an eReader. Yet I still believe eBooks have and will radically changed the book world. In the beginning of computers, only a few had them. That didn't stop the computer and Internet age from dawning.

As authors, our job is to make sure we get our fair share for the work that we produce. Writers now (as opposed to in the past) really have to learn about the publishing side, not just the writing side, of the business.


Houston A.W. Knight said...


I agree with everything you just said...when I first heard about e-books a few years back I felt it then that e-books would be the future...for most authors.

I think the paperback will be saved for their top sellers...and for those of us old timers who love the feel of a book in our hands....but we'll pay dearly for that honor.


readwriteandedit said...

I find my books and new authors while browsing in libraries and bookstores. I want to flip through a whole book, not just see the first page or two. I don't buy food online and I don't like buying books I can't investigate first.

POD sounds good, but are you gonna let me look through a copy before I commit?

Good article, Sia.

Ashley H said...

I don't have an e-reader and have no desire to even own one. I sit on a computer all day long at work, I don't want to read my books off of a device. Doesn't matter to me whether it's trade or mass market, it's a book in my hand and that's all that matters to me! I wish Dorchester wasn't switching completely and would just offer the books as an e-book also, but nothing I can do about that lol