Dorchester Getting out of the Paperback Biz

Publishers' Weekly reports that Dorchester is getting out of the paperback book business and shifting to an e-book and POD model.

Mass market romance publisher Dorchester Publishing has dropped its traditional print publishing business in favor of an e-book/print-on-demand model effective with its September titles that are “shipping” now. President John Prebich said after retail sales fell by 25% in 2009, the company knew that 2010 “would be a defining year,” but rather than show improvement, “sales have been worse.”

[…]Dorchester will continue to do print copies for its book club business and has signed a deal with Ingram Publisher Service for IPS to do print-on-demand copies for selected titles. According to Prebich, some e-books that are doing well in the digital marketplace will be released as trade paperbacks with IPS fulfilling orders; the company, however, will not do any more mass market paperbacks for retail distribution.

I am running out the door, so I haven't had a chance to give this development much thought. I'll probably post more about it later. But I wonder what this means for their Hard Case Crime imprint?

UPDATE – Apparently, the Wall Street Journal was wondering the same thing:

Hard Case Crime, an imprint owned by closely held Winterfall LLC, said it may seek to move its mystery books from Dorchester to another publishing house.

"It's been a good run, but if they aren't publishing mass market paperbacks, we'll have to decide what to do. I'm a believer in the mass format, but I do understand the reality of the marketplace," said Charles Ardai, who owns Hard Case Crime.

The country's largest consumer book publisher, Bertelsmann AG's Random House Inc., said it continues to be a strong believer in mass paperbacks. One of the country's most successful mystery writers, the late John D. MacDonald, is available from Random House exclusively in mass paperback.

"It's still a viable, popular, lower-priced alternative to the other reading formats," said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House. "It also has a committed readership. Will that commitment be forever in a transformative marketplace? We'll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: And Charles Ardai elaborated in a comment he left here, that says:

It means that future Hard Case Crime titles will most likely be published by a company other than Dorchester (although Dorchester may still distribute them to their book club members).

Interesting times. More info to come as things ripen…

16 thoughts on “Dorchester Getting out of the Paperback Biz”

  1. I love the Hard Case Crime imprint, but I think this was a desperate move by Dorchester trying to stay alive. Not good news for Hard Case, I think.
    If Dorchester is now ebook/POD only, they’ll need to adjust their royalties to compete with other epublishers and with Kindle’s 70% royalty for indie authors.
    I do think there is a future for branded epublishers like Hard Case (eHarlequin and its imprints come to mind), but publishers will have to offer better terms to authors, or risk going out of business.

  2. It means that future Hard Case Crime titles will most likely be published by a company other than Dorchester (although Dorchester may still distribute them to their book club members).
    Interesting times. More info to come as things ripen…

  3. Not to mention their Westerns. I suspect most of their readers will switch to other mass market Western publishers like Pinnacle instead of buying whatever e-books they put out. Then again, I can’t imagine the success or failure of their Westerns line as being a big factor behind this move.

  4. I am wondering what this does to its Leisure line of Western novels. It has published numerous reprints as well as a few new titles over the years.

  5. This is all kind of fascinating and terrible for those of us who grew up on Gold Medal, Lancer Books, et. al. It’s happening so incredibly quickly, but my ebooks are doing well, so we’re all just facing the inevitable. Thanks for posting this Lee, glad yours are rocking too (I have a couple)
    Harry Shannon

  6. Coincidentally, I’m reading Graham Masterton‘s latest Harry Erskine novel, BLIND PANIC (Misquamacus is back), and I wonder what’ll happen not only to the horror line but also writers like Masterton — especially as Mr. M these days seems only to be published by specialty imprints like Leisure and Severn House. And he’s one of the genre’s brand names …

  7. Dorchester has published three of my books. I’m still waiting to hear what this means for me in terms of reversion of rights and such, because one of the problems with POD for authors is that your books can effectively never go out of print, which means you never regain your rights.
    My royalty rates were already higher per “copy” than for sales of print copies of my books.
    However, an author needs to be convinced of the reasons for going with a publisher. I’ll admit that I’m concerned about the straight plunge of authors into e-book publishing without editors. I am not as concerned when they’re seasoned professionals, but newer authors do often seem to think they have nothing to learn, and that’s not the case. You can learn a lot from working with a great editor.
    That said, if I wanted to produce e-books, I could effectively do the job myself. The overwhelming bulk of my editing comes from my agent, and I’ve never had to do a re-write for Dorchester or anything that hasn’t taken more than a day or two to adjust. I’ve participated in some level on the cover design for all of my books. So the real question moving forward is what do they bring to the table that you can’t do yourself? That’s what authors will have to ask. Dorchester will have to present itself in such a way to entice authors to give up a big chunk of money to them.
    I knew they were already not producing print review copies, and at least as far as Spinetingler goes, until someone gives us a kindle or comparable device, that means no review. I’m just not printing it off myself or reading on my computer.
    And I suspect this means they’ll be de-listed as an approved MWA publisher. Another thing for authors to consider.

  8. One of my novels was being considered for mass market reprint by Dorchester. I guess that ends that! (Sigh)

  9. I grew up on mass market paperbacks, and to me a “book” is always a paperback (I was more excited when a novel of mine came out in pb than I was by the hardcover), so this is a real bummer.
    I also find it strange. Obviously I don’t have access to Dorchester’s accounting, but it seems like mass market paperbacks would be the one format that could easily continue to compete with with ebooks as they take up a greater percentage of the market. (But then, I suppose that doesn’t matter for an individual publisher trying to save $.80 — or whatever they save on printing — per book sold.)
    In any case, I’m glad to see HCC isn’t much wanting to make that transition. How their books are released — in paperback, with beautiful cover paintings — is a big part of their identity, and a big part of their draw, I think.

  10. Dorchester reportedly will continued to release select titles in the Trade paper format.
    I do have a question for Mr. Ardair if he is still here. Who has the e-book publishing rights for the Hard Case titles? I read your comments over at Rap Sheet blog (and left a comment). I understand the reason behind Hard Case is to honor the old crime paperback novel format, and I hope you continue. However, there are some of us who love the books but prefer the e-book format. I know you are not interested in the e-book format, but do you own all publishing rights to the Hard Case titles? You have been too good with your selection of forgotten books. I would hate to see the talented writers and their work not reach all readers.
    I wish you continued success with your writing and publishing career.

  11. Was wondering about HC Crime as well. If not for them I’d miss out on my favorite kind of reading. The used stores are lean pickin’s these days for the originals.

  12. > I do have a question for Mr. Ardai if
    > he is still here. Who has the e-book
    > publishing rights for the Hard Case
    > titles?
    We have the ebook rights in some cases, but not most; the authors retain those rights in all the other cases. In the cases where we have the ebook rights, we have authorized Dorchester to release ebook editions, and in some of those cases Dorchester has done so. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ebook edition of any of our books sell more than 5 copies in any royalty period.
    On the other hand, some of our authors (most notably Lawrence Block) have put out their own ebook editions of the titles we’ve published in paperback, and I would bet that Larry is seeing more than 5 copies of each title sell each year. I’d be surprised if he were selling a ton of copies — but probably more than 5/year.
    In any event, the answer the question you’re really asking is that if we do own the ebook rights, we’re delighted to put out an ebook edition; we certainly don’t intend to keep titles out of the ebook format spitefully or out of an exaggerated sense of artistic purity. But I have no interest in being an ebook-only (or even ebook-first) imprint.

  13. Mr. Ardai,
    I am really glad that hear that Hard Case Crime will not be going to an e-book only format. I am old fashioned. I like books, real physical books. Especially when they have gorgeous covers like the Hard Case Crime books do.

  14. I read somewhere that sell-through for some publishers on MMPB is as little as 20%. Given that MMPB are NOT returned to the publisher, this means that you have to publish and send out 5 copies to sell one. So that stated 80 cent publishing cost is actually closer to $4 to sell one $6.99 paperback off the rack.
    I know that I don’t see as many paperback racks in as many places as I used to. And the racks that I do see are smaller, so there’s really only room for whatever bestsellers are being pushed, not the genre material that publishers like Dorchester provide.
    Even our local bookstore seems to have trouble – I had to request a copy of each of the most recent Destroyer novels from TOR. They wouldn’t order any because there was no sales history, even though they had sold the Gold Eagle series and I was ordering every volume. And don’t get me started on their inability to have older volumes of a series in stock. They’ll have 10 copies of the fourth volume on display up front, two copies of the second volume, and none of the first or third. And if I have to go online to get those first volumes, why am I going to come back to the store for the others?
    Mass Market paperback distribution has been broken for a long time. Dorchester will most likely only be the first to leave. And it will hit genre publishing the hardest.


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