Hardbacks, Paperbacks & customer choice

Eoin Purcell

Sometimes I wonder about publishing
We seem happy to give the reader what they want in content terms and we seem happy to let them dictate the direction of our publishing. Witness the endless lists of celebrity biography, sports biography, misery memoirs and true crime. But, when it comes to format we have been forcing Hardbacks on them and pretending that they have some innate value.

Like most publishers, Mercier has encountered one of the main reasons why hardbacks happen, Authors. Mostly it happens like this:

    1) Author is happy to be signed and get a deal but expresses a desire to see book in hardback
    2) We explain that that decision will rest on out judgment of the market and a dozen or so factors around pricing, market segment, competition etc.
    3) Author agrees but is still reluctant to have paperback (hardback being perceived as more prestigious)
    4) Book is released in paperback and sells well
    5) author sees book of another author in hardback and feels that they have been short changed by publisher
    6) Publisher goes through the numbers, your book sold 3 time the number of that authors title. The markets in question were completely different and we priced and produced both books in market appropriate ways
    7) Author reluctantly accepts logic but expresses desire for hardback edition of next book. Process continues

I’m not dissing authors here. In their defense, often national papers make much more noise over hardback releases than paperback ones for reasons unknown to me (do journalists suffer from a belief in the super-prestigiousness of hardbacks?). But the evidence I have gained is that except for specific titles, when hardback release is a must, the bulk of non-fiction and fiction sells best in a paperback format and that is that. Even authors who can see past the lur eof hardbacks will agree, like Harry Bingham.

The reason I broach the topic is because Pan are moving to paperback and hardback releases simultaneously in the spring of 2008 and the comment this has generated has been impressive:
Scott Pack
The Bookseller News A
The Bookseller News B
Philip Jones

All formats at the same time seems to me the best option, be that hardback, paperback, e-book, audiobook of whatever. That we might force a reader to buy in a certain format seems bizarre to me. If hardbacks were cheaper I’d say split the run and do a few hundred hardbacks with every paperback and sell them as special edition like The Friday Project is proposing.

Perhaps I am best leaving the last word to Andrew Kidd writing on Pan’s very fine blog:

In the end, there is no one solution. However the work is delivered, our aim is for our writers to find as many readers as possible. The first two titles in the initiative will be Andrew Crumey’s Sputnik Caledonia and Joanne Proulx’s Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet. We look forward to seeing what happens.

Pleased by the news
Eoin

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6 comments

  1. What always annoys me if I discover a series about half way through, is that I will have all the books up until the most recent one in paperback, then depending on how desperate I am to get my hands on the next title, I will switch to hardback, which a) cost more and b) often don’t fit on the same shelf as the rest of the series. But then I do realise I’m an atypical book buyer.

  2. Cas,

    I’m a fool for this, i can never wait. That’s the issue. For some series I would happily buy the hardback but for others I would prefer the paperback, why should we be forced to pay up or wait!

    Eoin

  3. I’m with you on books being available in all formats at the same time but I have to confess I’m a sucker for hardbacks. I’ll try to track down a hardcover copy on ABE if a book is only available in paperback. I realise the content is exactly the same, I guess it’s purely a tactile choice. I do close my eyes to the price difference though what I don’t know won’t hurt my credit card!!

  4. Main reasons for hardback publication:
    1. if it’s a book the punters simply have to have
    2. if you want it to get reviewed anywhere
    3. prestige (see 1 and 2)
    We have occasionally brought out book simultaneously in HB and PB, and nobody buys the HB! As HBs make us more money per copy (which helps to pay for producing the book in the first place) this is really bad news, particularly if you are left with HBs at the end of the first season. So we stopped doing that … also, HB followed by PB gets you two slots at the front of the shop
    Reasons to go paperback
    1. shelf-life: hardbacks are only given a season, while old reliables will last forwever in PB
    2. cheaper and quicker to print: there’s nothing like waiting on a HB reprint coming up to christmas, knowing that a paperback is a week quicker to produce, to make you tear your hair out. You can also overprint a bit without huge exposure
    3. Cover price. This also applies to new formats in paperback
    Not all of this is logical, but it’s the way the world works. Literary fiction is different, though, and runs to its own rules, the main one being that very few people buy it in any format, for all the noise it generates.

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