Dorchester and the ebook revolution

The publishing world went nuts over the weekend when Dorchester Publishing announced they would stop publishing all mass-market paperbacks in favor of ebooks. There will still be trade paperback releases for the ebooks that do well.

This affects not only Dorchester's romance line, which is what the wider publishing world i focusing on, but Leisure Books, the horror imprint. Leisure is arguably the biggest horror publisher in the U.S. - anyone know somebody printing more monsters than Leisure? There are authors with books coming out in a few weeks who are suddenly being told their books will be ebooks instead. Yikes. It's an entirely different marketing strategy, and I really feel for them.

It is apparently a "stay in business" move, as retail sales for Dorchester fell 25 percent last year. As of a few weeks ago, mass-market was still the plan. God knows I wouldn't want Leisure to crash and burn. Half my bookshelf is Leisure mass-markets, and a good number of my author friends are Leisure minions.

Everyone, however, seems to be freaking out over Dorchester's decision to use POD for its trades. There is a continuing belief that POD is the same as self-publishing, and I want to drive a stake through this idea. POD is a technology, nothing more or less. Print on demand technology has advanced to the point where I can hand you my traditionally-published book and my POD book and you can't tell which is which. POD has allowed small presses to stay alive without investing tens of thousands of dollars in giant press runs they'll never sell.

And bookstores don't care. As I've talked with bookstore after bookstore, they don't care how it's printed as long as the terms on the Baker & Taylor screen are reasonable. Self-publishing and vanity presses generally have highly unfavorable terms for booksellers, and that's why they don't order them. I've seen everywhere this weekend that "bookstore won't stock POD!" and that simply isn't true. My books, let me show you them.

So if Dorchester does it smart - and they're partnering with Ingram, so it looks like they will - and they offer returns and a 40-percent discount to booksellers, the books will get into stores.

Whether the authors can survive without mass-market, that's another story. For one thing, I wonder if the contracts specify a good royalty for ebooks. Standard among e-pubs is 35-40 percent of cover price, while the traditional royalty for a print book is 7 percent. If you only get 7 percent of the ebook, that's a shitty deal. I am not a Leisure author, so I am not privy to the vagaries of their standard contract. But I know publishing, and generally if someone's going to get bent over, it's going to be the author.

I remember what it was like trying to promote and sell when all my books were in ebook form only. It was damned hard. Here, take this cover card and remember to order my book when you're at your computer three days from now. Would you like me to sign it? The cover card, not the book. Because you can't sign an ebook. The stigma also was huge; I've said many times how much shit I took, as though I wasn't even an author even after NOCTURNAL URGES came out and sold like crazy and won awards and had glowing reviews, because it wasn't a "real book." There's the famous bio-rewrite, where they amended the bio I sent in to call me an "aspiring author." Yeeeah.

But that was in 2004, before the Kindle and the iPad and the ebook explosion, which is still in its infancy. People are finally taking ebooks seriously, nearly a decade after Ellora's Cave exploded with romance ebooks as a viable business model. As of a few years ago, romance was the only genre making money in ebooks - the ultimate brown paper wrapper, plus romance has always been the cash cow of  publishing, with the largest market share of any genre (fiction or non-), $1.36 billion in sales last year and approximately 75 million readers. Source.

Now with Kindle and iPad, a lot of smart people are telling me that ebooks are the way we'll all be reading books in a few years. Print books will never go away, but they'll become rare, like the limited editions the collectors' presses put out. You know, those fancy $75 super-deluxe books signed in blood by the author and cover artist delivered by bands of singing angels? Yeah, I don't have any either. I'm just a poor working author.

One author told me this week he didn't see that happening in his lifetime, or not until he's an old man. Another told me a few months ago he sees it happening within two years. Somebody's gonna owe somebody a drink.

The argument I like the most is that if most books become ebooks, then an individual title becomes less of a financial risk. Not risk-free - despite public perception, a hell of a lot of work goes into an ebook. Editing, development, production design, cover art, marketing, none of that is any lighter on the pocketbook for an ebook than a print book. All they save are trees.

But without the cost of the dead tree, it might spur publishers to take bigger risks. Publish more books by unknown authors, try subgenres and cross-genres that might not be in the conventional wisdom that vampires must sparkle to sell. Give a chance to midlist and small-press authors who don't quite conform to the top ten on Publishers Weekly's list. It could add to the diversity and creative freedom of genre fiction, and help some of us struggling authors achieve a higher level of financial success and readership than we have before.

That's the upside.

In the meantime, I know I'm watching this damn closely. And I can bet it will come up at every convention, seminar and kaffeeklatsch this fall. As for myself, it doesn't affect me. Yet. But you better believe all my stuff is available in ebook.


  1. I can't get any of the local bookstores to stock PoD stuff. Not from Amber Quill or Ellora or Pink petal. Has to do with returns. Please let me know how you do it.

    Correction: Davis Kidd bought 2 copies of each. I still haven't been paid.

    I'm disappointed. We were looking at Dorchester to be the jump to mass-market and now they've stepped back to where we are. No there advantage now.


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