Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fiction Delivery

RT BOOK REVIEWS magazine is getting it! In their August issue they conclude an article by quoting author J. A. Konrath: "The story isn't on ink, or e-ink, or a computer screen. That's only the delivery system. The story is in your head. The easier it is to get the words into your head, the better."

This comment comes from "Format Fever," an article about why publishers choose to release a book in hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or e-book. The pros and cons of the various formats are discussed, e.g., hardcovers earn more money per copy, but many readers are understandably reluctant to buy them, not only for the expense but because of their size and weight. Paperbacks are more likely to be impulse purchases than more costly formats are. There's a sidebar about where and how bookstores display books. Hardcovers at the front of the store preferably sit at waist level or higher. That's because not only do sellers want those products at eye level for an adult reader, they want the books specifically at adult male eye level. Men are more likely to buy a hardback on impulse than women are. Who knew? Actually, I wasn't too surprised to read that women have more of a tendency to consider price, not to mention the question of whether a volume will fit in one's purse. Trade paperbacks lie on tables at waist height to invite easy picking up and browsing through. Book clubs like trade paperbacks, which often contain value-added content such as discussion questions that the mass market edition doesn't have. Mass market paperbacks are displayed near the entrance for, again, impulse buy purposes and for the "non-browsing" customer who wants to get in and out quickly. (Now, there's a personality type I can't relate to.)

Authors who've been "promoted" to hardcover mention getting hostile letters from readers, accusing them of greed. Many readers still don't understand that the author has no control over the format and pricing of the book. Personally, if I had the chance to get published in hardcover, I'd be dubious of whether the higher price would make up for lost sales. Sure, there would be a paperback edition six months later, but how many readers would wait to buy it in proportion to those who would forget all about the book by then?

Avon is experimenting with an innovation of releasing novels previously published in hardcover in both trade and mass market sizes at the same time. And of course, although the RT article unaccountably doesn't mention this trend, major publishers now more often than not release the Kindle or other e-book edition simultaneously with the hardback. The trouble is that some of them miss the point and over-price the e-book. Now, that IS greed. But not the author's fault.

The article remarks that readers may feel "it is very hard to justify $25 for eight hours of entertainment." (On the other hand, people spend seven dollars at a movie matinee for about two hours of entertainment; a book looks like a bargain in comparison. After all, the book is rereadable.) The RT writer doesn't even bring up the first question that leaps to my mind when I read this sentence: Who in her right mind would pay the $25-30 suggested retail price for a hardcover? First, if the book comes from a major publisher, one can borrow it from the library and, if it's a personal keeper, buy the paperback later. Or, if it's a "can't wait" author for that particular reader, has she never heard of or The only times I've ever paid full price for a hardcover or trade paperback since a merciful Providence gave us were for products from obscure presses that don't have their wares discounted with the Internet booksellers.

Choice is wonderful!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. Margaret: You didn't provide a URL for that article. Is there one?

    It would be delightful to know if the author had been reading someone who had been reading me over the years because they are retracing the thinking I've done.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  2. Articles from the current issue won't be available on their website until next month's issue reaches the stores. I'll try to remember to post it then.