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....