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