A friend doesn’t understand the logic behind issuing the hardback, e-book, and paperback in the way publishers do. She points to all the successful reviews and publicity at the start of the year, then says – will people remember that when the paperback comes out, say eight months later?
Here’s my thoughts.
The book trade is dealing with the effects of various changes
- Discounting – supermarkets, Amazon, and discount specialists sell books at very low prices
- The growth of the e-book (sales may have slowed a bit depending on who you believe – still massive)
- Audiobooks are growing fast
- Bookshops on the high street suffer the same pressures everyone else does – high rents and combating online retailers (who sometimes dodge taxes)
- Book piracy, which is stealing.
- And there is just more interesting content viewable at home than there was
A big publisher must try to juggle different markets. For some genres, hardbacks are still more likely to be reviewed in print media, and there is a market for big beautiful object books. And the hardback is to some extent the flagship product physical bookshops try to sell. Yet, those who read e-books are likely to read early and to review online.
I’ve seen pundits argue we need to make people see buying physical books is ‘best’. (Financially for authors, that’s a moot point.) Most authors of physical books need buy-in from local shops to get visibility.
I’ve seen other pundits argue we should publish the paperback soon after the hardback, riding on its coattails to build a larger market in size for authors. They argue a bigger push on paperbacks would allow middling authors to reach more readers and more sustainable income.
(Fun fact: With professional authors, on average their writing is only 20% of their household income- ALCS 2019)
I don’t have a simple answer for what strategy publishers should follow. What I do propose is to let fans of the book know how they can help in the run-up to paperback publication. Sub to my newsletter or follow me on Twitter etc!!
(Pix annie spratt, Unsplash)