Dorchester Publishing and the Future

Dorchester Pub changing format focus

Horror World: A message from Don D’Auria


J A Konrath: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Is anyone else as scared as I am by this move from Dorchester Publishing? In case you didn’t know, Dorchester Publishing has a little imprint called Leisure Books, a major promoter of mass market paperback HORROR fiction. You know how all of your favourite horror authors put out limited print runs of books with small press publishers at prices that can be prohibitive for the average low-income reader? Well, Leisure Books is the company that put them in your hands in a nice sized and affordable version. You want to have that same pleasure of reading their gruesome tales, then Dorchester says the future is to drop a few hundred bucks for a digital reader and then pay the same for the e-book as you paid for the print. I’m feeling ripped off, aren’t you?

If you’ve been reading my past postings on the ‘Net, you know I was a supporter of Dorchester Publishing for being one of the few major publishing houses keeping the horror genre alive. But now I hear the bell toll and it tolls for thee.

I’m jumping the gun with all of this Doomsday stuff, right? I don’t think so. Here’s why — from a reader’s and author’s perspective.

Why am I going to spend a few hundred dollars for a Kindle or iPad or other e-reader device so I can read a book that has no feeling of permanence? If I drop my e-reader and it breaks, I’ve lost my entire library. I might have backed the books up on my PC, that’s good, except why would I clog up my hard drive for the sake of a back-up? With print books, I have no need to buy or make an extra copy. On top of that, if I want to read those books on the go again, I have to spend another few hundred dollars to buy a replacement e-reader. This is getting pretty expensive don’t you think? if I drop a print book in a puddle, I take it home and dry it out, worst scenario I buy another book for a few bucks. E-readers save space, you say? I don’t doubt that but why does that matter? Your e-reader would run out of memory space if you bought enough books too. I realize the number of books they can hold is quite large but you and I both know holding a piece of plastic doesn’t equal to the feeling of owning a print book.

Now here’s where it goes bad for publishers switching to digital-only formats. Why, as a reader, do I need them? I need the writer who created the story. If you want to argue that a writer’s work is not the same quality before it goes through the editing process, you’d lose that argument. The profit margins for a writer to self-publish an e-book outweighs those of going with a publisher. The editing process can be hired and even after spending money on that you come out ahead of your earnings if you go with a publisher instead. There are many reputable and quality freelance editors out there and they don’t want a continuous portion of your profits, giving you a tiny slice of the pie in return. That leaves the publisher offering you one thing in return for the large percentage of the profit margin you give them and that thing is their name. How much longer will that hold value? With writers turning to their contracts and seeing how much they are losing in profits to publishers just for the comfort of what is essentially their sponsorship of a product that has no physical weight or value, the way a print book has, it can’t be long before they see how much easier it is to self-publish their e-book. Writers like Brian Keene and Scott Nicholson have already looked into or are doing it.

How many books do these publishers think they can sell when authors can undercut the price themselves? The goal of most professional writers is two-fold; get the book read by as many people as possible and make enough money to keep writing. Using the numbers from the Konrath blog posting; $2.99 or $6.99? Which one do you think you would buy, if it was the same book? If it’s the same book, would seeing the publisher’s name on the more expensive one affect your buying choice? In a time of economic instability, I don’t think the consumer cares about the publisher’s name on an electronic document.

And that’s the other thing. It’s not even a book, it’s a novel-length electronic document. A book is a physical thing you can hold in your hands. E-books are insubstantial things, it’s the e-readers that are the physical part of the product. As a result the true value of the work is in the author’s words entirely and the publisher is selling you nothing but the rights to access those words. An author can do that themselves. So why would a reader or an author give that kind of power to a publisher?

Let’s take a trip back in time to say… any day you want in the past when publishers put out print books. Those print books came in all manner of quality, some were gorgeous like early Stephen King hardcovers or one-read fall-aparts like the majority of the 80’s paperbacks. Submissions departments at all publishing houses were jammed, crammed, thank you ma’ammed out the ying-yang with authors trying to get them to put their novel in print. Two reasons for this: prohibitive cost of self-publishing a print book and the stigma of self-publishing. I mean who had the money or room to get their own printing press? When it comes to e-books I’ve got a printing press right here on my lap. Anyone with a computer can make an e-book. By going an all-electronic route publishers are driving themselves into a dismal future. In no time at all, writers will wake up and smell the scam, realizing they don’t need publishers anymore; they need freelance editors. Where will that leave the publisher? Bankrupt. Of money and the talent that provides them with a product to sell.

There is still value in the print book industry. Jumping away from the niche that makes you necessary is not the way to go. Wasting money printing books that will not get sold is just that, wasting money. I walk into the local bookstore looking for Ray Garton, Douglas Clegg or so many others and I’m very lucky if I find a single copy of their new book. The rest of the shelf is filled with Stephen King, Dean Koontz and the other big names. Multiple copies of their books from twenty-thirty years ago. I mean come on, who doesn’t have those books yet? What rock are these people living under? You can find those books at second-hand stores and yard sales for crying out loud. Why did the publisher just waste thousands of dollars printing so many copies of them? I’d like to find the buyer for the bookstore and kick their ass. Is it any wonder why authors like Garton, Keene and others sell better through online stores and small press than through big publishers? These big box store idiots don’t have copies on the shelves because they’re waiting for some guy or gal to come out from under the rock to buy that Stephen King book they missed. Mid-listers are in the middle of the list because buyers and publishers put them there. You can’t expect to get new readers if they’ve never heard of the book. Believe me, Dean Koontz doesn’t need the advertising money to let people know he has a new book out, his readers know before the publisher drafts the contract. And they wonder why print sales are dropping.

I’d buy a print book from a major publisher because they make them best. I’ll buy an e-book from the writer because he/she deserves the money. Major publishers offer me nothing for buying an e-book that the writer can’t give me.

Publishers should switch to a POD style of publishing; it can work. That is if the buyer who places the order at the bookstores wakes up and smells the over-priced coffee. Because they are a huge part of the problem. Book stores rarely push a new author unless the hype around them is already huge. The end result of not pushing their product is driving publishers out of business and that will do more harm than good to the bookstores. If publishers can’t make money putting out books in print and have to switch to an all digital format, there goes the book stores and the libraries. Both publishers and book stores still have some power over the message they send to the newest generation and the message they are now sending is impatience at the same time they devalue the physical book. Less books on the shelves mean fewer jobs for these kids. Not just there, at the bookstores but at the libraries too. Remember that episode of The Simpsons when they go to the library and find there are no books, only a computer with every book downloaded onto it? With the current trend how far off can that kind of future be? All those books on a computer just waiting for one EMP blast from the sun and they are gone. Print books will survive. The printed word has survived thousands of years. Can the same be said for the digital word?

It’s a dangerous business they’re playing in. One that could rob the world of its treasures. One with far-reaching consequences to an industry and more widely, the economy. It’s not adapting, it’s suicide.

The real question is: does the kid reading Twilight on his or her iPad even care?

Just a note: Since I posted this rant some interesting news has hit the writer blogs. They say the proof is in the pudding and if Brian Keene isn’t an ingredient in Leisure Books’ pudding mix, I don’t know who is then. Here’s what he has to say about why he’s decided not to continue with Dorchester Publishing’s new format.


12 Responses to “Dorchester Publishing and the Future”

  1. Natalie L. Sin Says:

    I was very unhappy when I found out. I don’t have an electronic reader, and have no plans to get one. As a writer, part of the thrill of being published is being seen on a shelf with other books.

    • I agree completely with you Natalie. Leisure gave hope to new horror writers that they would be able to walk into a department store and find a person reading the back cover of their new book and knowing that the lower price of a mmpb just might be the extra encouragement those consumers needed to take a chance on a new author.

  2. Actually, Brandon, Don says they’ll be putting the titles out as print-on-demand TPB as well. Most people have been so blind-sided by the rest of the news, they’ve missed that part of his statement, but it’s there, second paragraph.

    And I know – double the price, larger format, and less likely to be in small town shops (I’ll obviously be doing all book-buying online from now on) but it’s still print. They just won’t be stocking in their warehouse.

    I imagine Kensington and Pocket are just waiting patiently to see who flees the Dorchester line-up. This could really bring Kensington back, honestly, if they were to choose to stay in mmpb.

    • Nope, I saw that line Jodi. I also know the damage that will do to their print sales and their willingness to try new authors. They’re going to feel the same pinch as the small press, which largely publishes in TPB. The difference is, where the small press publishes in large part for the love of books and is willing to take a chance on a new author, the focus for Dorchester is going to be putting out names with proven sales because they are selling to the book store reader, who’s less likely to drop double the money on a new author.

      You’re right though, distribution is going to be slanted to bigger cities where the chances of them selling increase with the population. I also know from reading a lot of blogs and other postings that a majority of their mid-listers (some of our favourite authors) are nervous of what J A Konrath was talking about in his entry. They know the TPB are not going to sell the way the mmpb did but POD TPB can also mean that it takes longer to get their electronic rights back. I wonder how many of those mid-listers will be leaving? If they decide to keep them, I’m sure Dorchester will retain most of their recently signed new authors. Those guys and gals will be happy to have Dorchester’s name on the publication.

      The small press will get flooded in coming years I’m sure. The other question is how much can the other mmpb companies take on? How many authors will be lost in the exodus? And what does this mean for organizations like HWA?

      • I have to take back some of what I posted earlier. I had no idea how bad things were, until I was quietly taken ‘aside’ (if one can be taken aside online..LOL) by a couple of people who know. And then, of course, I read Keene’s post on the matter.

        If folks like Joel wanted their book to be TPB, he could have kept it with a small publisher. I wouldn’t suggest he’d keep it at Lach, because..well..I know from Lach. But he had other options, as do the others who have sold second rights to Dorchester.

        Sad all around, honestly. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about self-publishing and creating groups for what would amount to self-publishing… it all boils down to distribution, in the end. If the books aren’t getting to the buyers, they’re not going to be sold.

      • The common argument I hear for the distribution problem is that more and more people are shopping online these days and where else can you get virtually free distribution (unless you’re selling a physical product like a TPB). The ‘Net is pretty much world-wide and I know many authors are getting into selling their own foriegn languages rights or getting their work translated themselves to make their digital books appeal to a larger audience. More and more writers, even ones as popular as Brian Keene, are taking publishers out of the process.

        Like you said, why stay with a major publisher to be offered the same product as a small publisher? Many advantages will come from a market led by the small press. One of those advantages is a variety never before seen in the works available to readers. With so many editors out there in the small press, they each have their own views of what is good writing and that will show up in the books they decide to publish. Books that were passed on by major publishers for some cock-eyed view of what’s marketable will find homes.

        However, I also fear a second coming of the late 70’s to 80’s horror boom. During that age major publishers were so eager to fill a demand that what you ended up with was a crap load of horrible horror novels (many of which were derivative of other releases) and a jaded public castrated them for it. Horror a golden child of publishing became a stigma over-night. The pressure is on now more than ever for writers and small press publishers to make sure they are putting out a quality book. And I’m not just talking the quality of the printing, covers, binding, etc, with the coming of this great push into the digital age a greater emphasis is going to be put on the work itself.

  3. all well said. I think this sums it up best:

    “I’d buy a print book from a major publisher because they make them best. I’ll buy an e-book from the writer because he/she deserves the money. Major publishers offer me nothing for buying an e-book that the writer can’t give me.”

    I truly do believe that publishers that o the e-book route are setting themselves up for doom 5-10 years from now.

    Also, fr years I fought the ipod, relishing my CDs. Eventually I gave in and now can’t imagine my life without the ipod. However, this e-book battle is one that I just can’t see myself switching sides on. I see people reading e-books and think they look silly. Especially when reading the on a phone.

    Another thing I firmly believe…even if companies that switch to e-bboks do very well, I predict that the few remaining in traditional print form will do MUCH better in the long run.

    • Thank you Barry.

      I still don’t have an iPod and spell check is one of the only reasons I changed to computers from typewriters (oh, and the noise). I agree the few remaining publishers that sell a traditional pocket-sized book will do well… for a time. Once our generation and the ones that came before are gone — possibly before then — so will the print book, if for no other reason than it’s “the green thing to do”. The only way our grandchildren will be reading them is from our own home libraries. They’ll pick them up out of curiosity and say, “You know Grandpa, they have these on television now.”

      I won’t deny that digital books are the future. I’m saddened by it. I just don’t know how much longer publishers like Dorchester or Medallion will still be a part of that, unless the service they offer to writers changes in some way. As it is, you can sense them struggling to find a place, while authors are exploring ways to do it without them. As I said, a writer’s main goals are to be read and to make enough money to keep writing. Publishers can’t compete with a writer going into e-books on their own and the POD Trade Paperback is nothing more than a carrot on a stick to keep them following long enough.

      I loved Leisure Books and what they were doing for the horror genre. Don’t think I’m bashing them, anybody reading this. What comes across as anger, is truly disappointment. I and many horror authors (yourself included I’m sure) feel abandoned by the new hope.

  4. This has been coming for the past three years (probably longer). It’s the future and price of eReaders are going to drop dramactically. There are many ebook readers available for your computer for free. I see this as a possible boon for the small press as I see the playing field being more level. Walmart is sited by Dorchester and I would have to say their claim is a valid one as I have been far less Leisure Horror books carried at my local Walmart.

    I am in the process right now of converting all our books to eBook format and I am expecting them to oursell the print book a minimum 2:1 if not more.

    Because of such of shake ups such as this it is very important that people start buying direct from the publisher and instead of supporting the corporate machine. Is this going to hurt companies like Amazon? No, not at all as there will always be stores like Amazon that will sell books.

    • I would have to agree. It’s been a long time coming. I think I’ve seen maybe a total of four titles at the local Walmart. But I’m also in Canada and Walmart is terrible for its variety of books, mainly because they stock a lot of what’s popular, like Twilight, The DaVinci Code and their ilk. I saw one Jack Ketchum the other day and I bought a Maberry there a long time ago. The Canadian version of Walmart, Zellers, is a different story, they have racks upon racks of Leisure and Dorchester titles and at half price. I buy handfuls of books from them. Simply because they carry more of the authors I read and cheaper than the bookstores in my area.

      Amazon will not be affected, I’m sure. Two reasons: they carry most books (even out of print through private sellers) and they sell a ton of e-books. It’s more the local book stores like Chapters, Indigo, B&N, Coles, etc, that I worry about being affected. They would be able to better survive if they opened their doors more to small press publishers, like Graveside Tales, Belfire, Permuted, Raw Dog Screaming and others. Carrying 50 copies of each book in the Twilight series is wasting shelf space and the credit they’re buying them with. They need to promote the authors that are hidden in the back of the lists the way grocery stores put sales on products that aren’t selling as well.

      E-readers and their books may come down in price but something digital just won’t have the same value to a lot of readers. A tough economy does make them attractive though. It would also be faulty for any publisher to ignore them. My beef is dropping print to make them a main focus. For a company like Dorchester to change to a more expensive format for their print like Trade Paperback is only going to drive e-book sales. I say put the digital copies out there but put your driving force behind the print, digital will sell itself.

      This shift for big corporate publishers is a major boon for the small press, that’s for sure. The playing field has been leveled because they are offering the public the same product as the small press. The only difference is that many small press publishers put a good deal more care and effort into their product. Whether that be the art on the covers or the quality of the story because editors for the small press work so much closer with writers to create a great book. The small press will also see a lot more of the big names in horror coming back to them. Nothing wrong with that. It simply means that horror lovers are going to be shifting their spending in a lot more directions.

  5. Here is the real problem people are overlooking – people who have readers haven’t abandoned paper books. Frankly, I resent the insinuation I’m some tech-twit running from from tradition. I love both formats. I love my reader for its portability. I love my paper books for the aesthetic. There is no either/or and that’s the point Dorchester is missing.

    The average size of an eBook is about 1-3MB – chump change considering mp3s are a lot larger. They aren’t clogging my hard drive any more than paper books I’m not reading are wasting space in my living room.

    Dorchester is shooting itself in the foot because if you love to read, you’ll buy the book in whatever format strikes your fancy. If I’m taking off on vacation – I’ll grab a digital because taking 15 books on my Reader is a lot cheaper and more portable. Summer reading on the couch or my collection, it’s paper all the way.

    Some books I even in all three formate – digital, paper and audio.

    I was a reader long before I was a writer. Instead of giving me the choice of how I want to read, the assumption that I’m only going to want to read one way tells me they aren’t all that interested in my business.

    It’s like a publisher telling me I can only write on my laptop.

    • I agree with you. E-readers have their good qualities. For travel, they are a godsend making the luggage quite a bit lighter. If I ever purchased one, I’d make sure to keep it with me at all times because I’m sure if it was left in my luggage it would go missing. The resale value of a stolen Kindle or iPad is a lot higher than a print book to the common theif. Portability is a bonus and a drawback. If I leave my book behind in the doctor’s office, it’s probably going to be there when I go back to get it, the e-reader on the otherhand, if it falls out of my pocket, it’s gone.

      Most people I’ve heard from or spoken to about this agree with you on other points. They have an e-reader but it doesn’t stop them from buying print and they hate being told that they may only be able to purchase digital copies of these books in the future. But the fact remains this shift is caused by many factors, a few of which were pointed out in a follow-up blog entry by J A Konrath. I’m just going to fluff out a couple of the details. The cause of Dorchester making this format change is mainly because people are not buying enough print books, not simply that digital is the inevitable future. People are not buying enough copies of books in print. Consumers with e-readers are most likely to try out a new author on their digital devices as opposed to cluttering shelves with a physical product they may not enjoy, which is a part of the reason why we see so much of King’s, Koontz’s, Hamilton, Rice, Brown et al on the shelves and fewer copies of other less “popular” authors, because the bookstore is guaranteed to sell at least a few copies of the popular author’s books out of brand name loyalty. Even they are not immune to the digital effect. Reader’s have become jaded and try out their books in digital first before buying a print copy. A company like Dorchester cannot survive by hoping to put out a shipment of popular author’s books because there are less than 50 of these big names and the whole market is trying to get a piece of them, the rest of their output is midlist or new authors. If numbers are down on the big names, they become dismal in terms of profit margins on the midlist or new author who is selling better in digital than print. Not enough people are buying print because as is said many times by owners of e-readers; it’s easier to take fifteen books on a plane with an e-reader than the same amount of paperbacks. Commutes are longer, people are spending less time at home and more time travelling, so they purchase digital and if they like it, then they buy print. Beyond love of all the nostalgic qualities of print books what is the purpose of paying twice for the same book? For publishers to operate with a digital and print line, they’re gambling that you care enough to buy a physical copy. Why waste the time and money producing something that is dropping in sales with the hope that you’ll buy it? But why publish your book with them if all they can give you is something you can do yourself with more profit and less contractual BS?

      My generation and those that came before me will not kill the print book. We love it too much and I suspect we’re one of the few reasons that print books are still surviving, for now. The younger generation though, they scare me. This is a generation that has probably never written a handwritten letter for the fun of it and mailed it in the actual mail. By the time they’re my age will they even need the post office? Most companies are changing to electronic billing as their main way of notifying customers of their account status. It can be argued whether or not this method is more reliable than the postal department. The fact is the new generation is changing its focus from permanence and things that are a physical reality and going digital because it’s fast and on-demand. The end result will have its benefits but it will also result in increased laziness, impatience and a general lack of respect for a deeper meaning in anything. It’s the “ME” generation. The “Now” generation and they don’t want to walk to the bookstore to get a book if they can have it in two minutes or less at home. Generally speaking corporations are encouraging this behaviour for the almighty dollar. The real problem becomes as exemplified by Dorchester’s firing of much of their staff (nevermind the effect on warehouses employees) that the faster and easier things get, the less people we need to get it to us. Ordering a book requires a handful of people to get it into your hands including people in the warehouse who package it for shipping and the postal worker who delivers it to your door. It takes time but those people have work to do because you ordered it or the bookstore ordered it. Downloading a book, employs the person who loaded it onto the site for you to download it. This template of job loss applies not just to publishing but across the board. Two of the biggest powers behind spending are the tweens and teens and they being trained by “progress” to want things now. One day their kids will expect the same thing but faster.

      It’s that kind of mentality that is destroying the book business we love. If everyone buying digital books bought five print books for every four digital books, print would still be a viable business for the big publishers. If the big publishers pushed their midlist more, they’d sell a broader range of books instead creating a stagnant pool of product available to the public who still buys print. It’s doom in the name of progress. It’s all been said before about a wide variety of things, the fact is some progress is good and others are bad. We’re becoming a world that is growing so fast we don’t care what road we’re going down so long as someone’s making a buck and someone’s saving time.

      I don’t know how to fix the problem. I know it’s a problem. My solution is to run from the e-reader in terms of my own purchases and continue to build my personal library of print books until I have no choice. Because you’re right, that’s what we’re losing with these changes, choice.

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