Friday, August 6, 2010

The Dorchester News And Why You Should Care

Twitter exploded this morning with the news that Dorchester has decided to dump their current mass market paperback format in favor of a digital then print-on-demand trade paperback platform. The plan, right now, is for titles to first be released digitally with a trade paperback edition being available for purchase 6-8 months down the line. So what does this mean for readers and why should you care? Well, I'm here to tell you.

Historically speaking, Dorchester was one of the very few (dare I say it - the only one?) publishers that was never afraid to push the envelope and explore new frontiers in genre fiction. They were the only publisher doing paranormal romances back before they were "cool." They're one of the few publishers that hasn't abandoned historical western romances or futuristics. They still publish horror, traditional westerns, and they brought us the awesome-sauce Hard Case Crime line.

Now, I'm not saying their shift in models won't work. It has worked, and very successfully, for other publishers. Authors have built nice careers for themselves. Money has been made. Digital then POD can work. Truly. But I'm not sure it's going to work here unless Dorchester hustles their asses off.

Dorchester in mass market stood out in bookstores. Walk into a Borders and try to find an "outside the box" book. Go on, I dare you. Dorchester titles were a bit of a lone wolf there. On the digital front? They have a lot more competition. Competition with strong, robust digital platforms that are very well established (coughSamhaincough). While I don't follow the digital publishing world all that closely, Dorchester has never struck me as a publisher at the forefront of digital. At all. So yeah, they need to hustle. They have a lot of ground to make up.

What does this mean for their various imprints? Well, I think the romance stuff will do just fine. Romance readers have flocked to digital more so than any other genre fiction reader, but that being said? Those who haven't gone digital, don't want to go digital etc. are likely going to resent the hell out of yet another publisher cramming trade paperbacks (and their prices) down their throats. Expect some readers to be unthrilled.

I think this could be a solid move for their horror stuff, because let us be honest - the horror genre has been anything but robust in recent years. Maybe the way to revive that genre a bit is to go digital and market the hell out of them online.

I'm on the fence about Hard Case Crime. I love this imprint, and it was launched largely on a Remember The Good Old Days Of Pulp Crime Fiction platform. I'm not sure what their demographic is, but I'm guessing it skews slightly older. If they play these books up to a younger, hipster crowd - I think they'll do fine as well. Also, this is a crowd that I think would be willing to buy POD trade without shedding too many tears.

I do fear that the funeral dirge for traditional westerns just got louder though. Certainly you have publishers like Forge and FiveStar still publishing the occasional western in hard cover, but Dorchester was releasing them in mass market. I also have a very hard time believing that the folks who buy westerns in mass market are going to move to digital, or wait around and drop more cash on trade paperback releases. This market has been slowly drying up for years now (romance readers, think Traditional Regencies), and I think this is another big nail in the coffin.

In all this upheaval and reorganization, I find myself feeling badly for the authors. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the digital then POD platform, and lots of authors now have great careers because of it, but those who signed with Dorchester, didn't sign up for this platform. Between that, whatever their contracts currently are, who knows what this will mean for them. Lots more work and uncertainty is my guess.

In the end, I'm not really sure how I feel about this. I hope for Dorchester, their staff, their authors, and for readers that it all shakes out in the end. But forgive me as I shed a tear for their mass market platform. I'm a librarian, and we're all about options and formats. I'm not saying digital then POD is "bad" or "icky" - but seeing Dorchester books on bookstore shelves made me a happy girl. It gave me hope, however small, that someone out there was willing to take risks while sticking with a traditional model. I know this is business, and it's adapt or die - but it still leaves me feeling slightly unsettled.

Old crusty fuddy-duddy that I am....

17 comments:

Katiebabs/ KB said...

I feel for the authors who signed and had no clue this was going down. How rotten that they are the last to know.

Buriedbybooks said...

Count me in as a lost reader for Dorchester. I'll read ebooks occasionally, but they are not my preferred format. It takes a tidal wave of good recommendations to get me to pay premium prices for a trade paperback book, and I've never been fond of the quality of POD books.

And yes, it's a bit sad to see a print publisher known for taking chances of new authors or genres to essentially remove themselves from the retail bookstores.

Liz Fichera said...

I wonder if this is just the beginning. I wonder who'll make the same move next? If they're the type of publisher who takes risks, it does make sense that they would go this route. Very interesting post. Thank you!

ms bookjunkie said...

My concern as an international reader is access to those Dorchester ebooks. Even though I own an ereader, I still read a lot of mass market paperbacks from "traditional publishing" due to geo restrictions and DRM.

Random thoughts:

Ebook covers: They're going to have to pay attention to those now if they want to sell books. Generic/blank doesn't sell/invite to read.

Series: I hate it when there's a format change in the middle of a series!

I wonder if they've really thought this through properly.

I'll order a mmpb without much thought. Trade, otoh, make me think about it more than twice. It's just too big a gouge on my wallet.

Lynne Connolly said...

What's more, they have a slew of backlist books with derisory royalty epub rates. Dorch could make a killing on those. What does this mean for advances, percentages? Will Dorch pay reasonable royalty rates for epub?

JenB said...

I'm a little sad about this. I hate trade almost as much as I hate hardcover, so much that I'll only buy trade used and REFUSE to buy it new, even if I love the author. I do like e, but I rarely buy DRM-protected e-books, which means I avoid most of the NY publishers. I prefer to buy their books in MMPB.

I just hope the digital versions are affordable, priced closer to MMPB than to the trade prices. That'll be their only salvation.

Sucks for the authors too, because a lot of those stories are too unusual for other MMPB houses and aren't steamy enough for e-publishers.

Unless a house like Carina picks them up...

Harlequin would be wise to open up a few nonconventional lines and court the hell out of the Dorchester authors.

Anonymous said...

I'm with ms bookjunkie on this one - I am also an international reader and I hate hate hate those geographical restrictions and am glad when I can get a MMPB if that is the case - or if the digital price is just not worth it. I buy trade paperbacks as rarely as hardcovers (well, nearly) and hate those from digital first publishers. So unless the prices are reasonable and accessibility is good...

What I don't get though is why they can't enter the digital publishing without giving up their MMPBs?

Obe said...

I'm a western writer. I hope someone will come visit me on boot hill. I'm heart sick about this.

nan

Mayberry Mom said...

I think what bothers me the most about this is the timing. An author finds out NOW that their slated Sept release will not be on shelves but instead will be digital?! That may be legal (I'm assuming it is because they are doing it) but ethical? Not in my book.

The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Kristie (J) said...

This makes me very sad. As you said, Dorchester was never afraid to publish outside the box and they've had a many a good book over the years. And your right - it is sad and heartbreaking for the authors. As I've discovered, there is a large percentage of readers who still haven't gotten on the ereader bandwagon and the price of trade paperbacks is somewhat limiting.

But as I said at DA, I'm not too surprised. There have been a lot of books that they've published that just haven't been on the shelves here in Canada and what many reader can't see on shelves, they just don't buy.

CindyS said...

Definitely what Kristie said - also, I'm not a great browser and I haven't even tried to look at e-book pubs lately.

I get the attraction to having every book you've ever owned on a e-reader but I love my book shelves and my TBR pile.

For me, it was when Harlequin entered the e-market that I thought 'uh, oh, now we're in trouble' but I put my head in the sand and hoped it would all work out.

Hopefully though I will always hear the buzz about a great book I just have to read and if it's digital then I'll find a way.

As JenB said, trade paperbacks make me think twice (10 times) before I'll touch the book while at this time I ignore digital.

I think I may actually being feeling stress about all these changes. Crap.

CindyS

Wendy said...

The more I've thought about this, the more I think Dorchester should have gone with a Harlequin-like model. Digital editions available the same month that readers can find the mmpbs in stores. That said, the rumors have been swirling for a while that Dorchester has been very strapped financially, so my guess is that they're going digital then POD trade in an effort to slash overhead and salvage the company. Will it work? I dunno. Their digital platform needs to be a lot more robust from where I'm standing.

And what Lynne said. I fear a lot of authors are going to get screwed in regards to their backlist sales. Just reading the chatter online, it looks like Dorchester wasn't terribly generous with royalty rates in regards to digital/e.

What I find shocking is how quick this all seems. I mean, we're talking mere weeks until September 1. Unless they've been planning this move for a while, what are the odds that Dorchester is going to have their own ebookstore up and running? Or are they going to rely on other already established retailers like Amazon, B&N etc.? In which case - that won't be good news for international folks or those who want DRM-free....

Katiebabs/ KB said...

Wendy, I wouldn't be surprised if Dorchester knew about this for months. Companies make decisions quarter to quarter. I bet you by the beginning of the third quarter, they decided on this move since the forth quarter for most companies begins in September. And I bet you the employees and authors were the last to know.

azteclady said...

I wouldn't be surprised if this move has been in the works for far longer than one quarter--but yes, no doubt in my mind that those in the new weren't eager to give the authors advanced warning.

From where I sit, this is bad, bad news--for many a traditional (read: print) reader, Dorchester will seem to simply disappear once there are no mmpb on the shelves.

Sad for the authors, very sad.

SarahT said...

According to a link on Christa Faust's blog (http://christafaust.net/?p=471),
Hard Case Crime might be leaving Dorchester.

Rebecca J. Clark said...

I'm a huge fan of digital books and POD (I write for a small press)...however, I CHOSE to go that route. The Dorchester authors did not, and must feel like they just had a bucket of ice water thrown onto them. I hope Dorchester knows what they're doing, and I hope their authors come out okay in the end.

Michelle said...

It's very interesting. I too am curious to see what will happen, and what it will mean for those authors in the ebook world.