"These are like pioneer times in publishing"
August 14, 2010 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Dorchester Publishing (an original paperback publisher that distributes the Hard Case Crime series and is home to Leisure Books, which is "the only mass-market house with dedicated lines for Westerns [four books a month] and horror [two books a month]," and which also publishes a romance line that features six to eight titles monthly) will transition to an e-book only model. Perhaps only temporarily? Perhaps not so temporarily after all! Currently, e-book sales account for just 12% of Leisure's business, and their overall sales saw a 25% loss over the course of 2009. Popular horror novelist Brian Keene has already jumped ship from the house, citing lack of payment for his work.
posted by kittens for breakfast (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is too bad; Leisure's horror line has published some consistently interesting books.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:36 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Their Hard Case Crime books are a fun read; based on the first Publishers' Weekly Link, it sounds like if you're a member of Hard Case's subscription book club, you'll still be able to get your book in printed format (which is awesome --if accurate, because their covers are deliberately retro-noir awesome). It sounds like Hard Case might be moving their line to another partner though, based on Charles Ardai's comments, but where are they going to go?

The whole issue here is that brick & mortar retailers keep taking shelf space away from books in favor of higher profit margin products like games and puzzles. Tie that in with the factt that the big publishing houses have increasing sway in what retailers are carrying on what remains of actual book shelfspace in the chains, it comes as no shock to me that a niche publisher like Dorchester is getting squeezed.

While its definitely not cool that the continued decline in Dorchester's profits have resulted in several authors getting screwed out of their money, I have to give Dorchester credit in trying to find a way to keep their publishing house afloat.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:59 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

When there are no more paperback romance covers what happens to Fabio's gig?
posted by jfuller at 2:30 PM on August 14, 2010

What nonsense. Ebooks are like getting head from a plastic blow-up doll or conversely going down on a plastic blow up doll.*

*Skygazer does not have first hand knowledge of what getting head from a plastic blow-up doll or going down on a plastic blow-up is like.
posted by Skygazer at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2010

Ye Olde Metafilter: These new fangled Guttenberg presses are silly. Where is the craftsmanship? Where are the personal touches and idiosyncratic spelling mistakes? Where is the giant chain to keep make sure no one steals the book?
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:55 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

They're still winning Skygazer, more and more all the time. Pundits are predicting a $100 Kindle by Christmas. What will you do when the tipping point is reached?

It's not good enough for everything though, not yet. But for pulp fiction, like mass market genre fiction, it's especially good. While they may be fewer people reading using ebooks, I'm pretty sure they read more. Ebooks are like mp3s, they're impulse buys. I can have a book on my Kindle within 3 minutes of hearing about it. Just finish a book by an author you just discovered, and want the next one in the series? You can buy the damn thing from the ereader itself.

Now there are plenty of reasons to fear the current ebook environment. The fact that it's a duopoly of two businesses who have shown contempt for their suppliers through the years. The DRM, the consumer unfriendly licenses, making the reading of books part of the digital divide (Making the reading of fiction require a $100 upfront investment is not a terribly progressive circumstance).

The economics of ebooks are making more and more sense (summon bitter-girl). Although I have reservations about the digital divide when it comes to ebooks, I really can't complain about the environment enabling more people to create.

Tangent aside, I thing this is a bit of a dick move by Dorchester. They left a lot of authors in the lurch, by not phasing out paper books. It that's what it takes to remain solvent though, I don't think I can blame them.
posted by zabuni at 4:25 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

In my opinion, the most awful part of this whole fiasco is that the writers got the same press release as the general public and had no idea that the books they sold to Dorchester -- at print royalty rates, mind you; digital royalty rates in these contracts is usually pitifully low -- would be put out in ebook format only. There's a story in this link from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books about an author who was supposed to have a book released in September, who had paid out of her own pocket for promotion, which is pretty much par for the course for midlist and lower commercial authors, and found out that oops! Her book would be coming out as an ebook after all.

Now, here's the thing. A lot of the time big publishers print books overseas. These books literally come over on a slow boat from China. So Dorchester must have known for months that they would be making the change and they dropped it out of the blue.

Dorchester has been having money problems for a while. A couple of weeks weeks before this year's Romance Writers of America conference, RWA stripped Dorchester of their privileges at the conference because they weren't paying people. (And before we all go LOLromance writers, please remember that romance sales are HUGE -- up to a billion dollars a year -- and in some ways help keep the major publishing houses going. RWA has minimum standards for a publisher to be considered legitimate, just like SFWA and other writers' assocations do.)

Having an ebook only press isn't something you can pull out of your ass. It's not as simple as just OCRing manuscripts. I hope that Dorchester doesn't go away, because they do print some interesting books that aren't getting published anywhere else and because I think a variety of publishing houses is a good thing. To be honest, though, I give them only a few months.
posted by sugarfish at 4:38 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I held off on saying anything here this long because I didn't want this to turn into a GYOB situation, but zabuni's link is more than worth reading, and I wish I'd known it was there to add it to the original post -- writers who thought they were getting a paper book out of Dorchester and are now getting an e-book really may be getting screwed, not least because any personal publicity they had planned involved moving paper copies first.

The link to Keene's blog is interesting because he's talking about selling his upcoming novels as e-books himself. In his particular situation, he may as well; he's enough of a name that he could maybe publish his own work digitally and do just fine, and he's evidently not seeing the money Leisure owes him now besides. Whether he would make more money from that work if it were being published in print form (and he was receiving a profit from it, of course) is almost beside the point...it's not being published that way, and if he can make a living wage on the e-books, why not? But even if he's wildly successful at it, this is still a kind of NIN/Radiohead situation that doesn't say anything either way about the possible success of a writer of self-published e-books that has no history with a major print publisher.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:45 PM on August 14, 2010

And before we all go LOLromance writers, please remember that romance sales are HUGE -- up to a billion dollars a year -- and in some ways help keep the major publishing houses going.

Indeed, and it's worth noting too that Leisure really is the only US publisher that has dedicated horror and western lines. (And if you know anyone who reads westerns, you know that a digital-only move effectively means that now no US publisher has one, as the average reader of westerns is a rather old gentleman who is, if I may stereotype, quite likely not the owner of a DVD player, much less an electronic book reader. My guess is, if Leisure survives the winter, that its western line will be gone completely inside a year.) Leisure going away wouldn't mean that these sorts of novels would go away, but it would mean that many fewer of these types of novels would be published.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:00 PM on August 14, 2010

(My bad: I should say, and yes I'm backing away from the thread now!, that Leisure is the only publisher with dedicated mass-market lines for these genres. There are certainly plenty of small presses that publish quite handsome horror hardcovers [westerns...I dunno], but these are aimed at a collector's market, and generally have low print runs and little penetration into mainstream bookstores. Often, in fact, these novels are swiftly reprinted as mass-market paperbacks...from Leisure.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:06 PM on August 14, 2010

will transition to an e-book only model.

"torrent's R Us" .. these sorts of niche genre publishers with a small but dedicated fan base are usually the most highly pirated.
posted by stbalbach at 7:50 PM on August 14, 2010

zabuni: "Ebooks are like mp3s, they're impulse buys."

I bought my first e-book today: Tropic of Capricorn, by Henry Miller. The only free copy I found was poorly formatted. So I paid Amazon a buck to transfer it to the Kindle app on my iPad.

I would have gotten Tropic of Cancer too - but the Kindle Store was charging $8.60. So I went and found a PDF on Rapidshare instead.

What this says about current e-book pricing levels is left as an exercise for the student.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:29 PM on August 14, 2010

Brian Keene's website hurt my eyes, a lot. And caused mefi to look all wavy when I came back. That is all.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:54 PM on August 14, 2010

Hard Case Crime, who has published through Dorchester, has seen their publishing schedule thrown off significantly by this. They are however, moving forward with their plans for their first hardcover novel from Subterranean Press.
posted by dortmunder at 7:24 AM on August 15, 2010

Zabuni: They're still winning Skygazer, more and more all the time. Pundits are predicting a $100 Kindle by Christmas. What will you do when the tipping point is reached?

I will horde my books and go out and live in the forest with the my elvish friends...

Just kidding.

I'll probably buy one myself. I think the impulse buy thing is sweet and I hope it means some serious new revenue for Newspapers, mags and book publishers. For example, it would seem to me that serial fiction and non-fiction, should make a comeback, with magazines and newspapers again...what better way to get people buying the next issue, and there's no longer a problem with printing costs so win...win..I say...it's just another delivery channel, ultimately, and there's a whole new art form awaiting there in literature (again fiction OR non-fiction both falling under that for me) supplemented by audio, video, music...narration, animation, graphic design etc. It will be hilarious when that happens and diehard Kindle-ists, say that video and audio augmented writiing is not really literature...and yeah.... ho hum...books will turn into movies and movies will turn into books and then the trend will disappear and people will goo back to reading real printed books, for the most part and watching real movies....

Anyhow, other than that, I'm looking forward to more books going back to being published in leather and on acid-free paper....why not? They can be printed in small runs and the book fetishists, such as myself will definitely dish out if it's a worthwhile book...just so they feel like they're not having sex with plastic all the time and no matter what I'm still not engaging in oral sex of any kind with a blow-up doll....or a robot for that matter....
posted by Skygazer at 2:33 PM on August 15, 2010

Anyhow, other than that, I'm looking forward to more books going back to being published in leather and on acid-free paper....why not? They can be printed in small runs and the book fetishists, such as myself will definitely dish out if it's a worthwhile book

That is one of the nicer points. The publishers that do survive, especially small ones, do so by creating artifacts of quality. I like Subterranean Press, especially when they specialize in limited special editions. Currently, there's a copy of the special edition of Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects on its way to my door. I have to say this is more for the love of the creation of art, more than the love of objects. Although a small part of me wants to feel the paper, smell the ink and the bindings, and turn the page. Just a small part.
posted by zabuni at 7:53 PM on August 15, 2010

The economics of ebooks are making more and more sense (summon bitter-girl).

Huh? what? Did someone call my name? Sorry, I was visiting the country's largest alpaca farm today. We saw an alpaca give birth! She just pow! dropped the baby and kept on chewing her food, it was hilarious. Hi zabuni! Soooooo. Peeked at this thread a bit. Yup, the economics of ebooks sure are changing the game as a whole, but to bring up something slightly off topic, have you all seen Copia?

Long story short: socially-networked book reading -- ebook reader + networking platform. I know it seems superfluous... you got your peanut butter in my Kindle! you got your Kindle in my chocolate! but given specialty reading communities (people who like nothing but romance novels, people who like nothing but Amish bonnet romance novels, people who only like Amish bonnet romance novels that take place on alpaca farms in Ohio...), Copia might bring a whole new audience together for reading via ereaders and sharing with others, thus growing the market even further. Interesting, no?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:24 PM on August 16, 2010

Now, according to Brian Keene, Leah Hultenschmidt and Don D'Auria have been laid off from Dorchester's editorial board, leaving only Chris Keeslar. I hope he's updated his resume.
posted by sugarfish at 7:16 PM on August 19, 2010

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