David Poindexter, Danielle Marshall, Kelly Nagle on Book Pricing for Literary Fiction

I’m especially excited to present today’s set of responses to the question “Does literary fiction suffer from dysfunctional pricing?” featuring one publisher who has already bet the future of his company on his answer to the question.
— Levi Asher

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David Poindexter is Publisher of MacAdam/Cage

Q: MacAdam/Cage is a trendsetter in simultaneous hardcover/trade paper original publishing. Can you tell me how your “Reader’s Choice” program got off the ground?

David: What used to happen is, we’d publish these brilliant novels in hardcover, books by new authors who don’t yet have an audience, and they’d sell a few copies. A year later we would release the paperback, but bookstore buyers would look up the low hardcover sales numbers and decide not to order the paperback. Or they would order fewer copies than we’d hoped, because the hardcover numbers were low.

In theory, a paperback release should give a new author’s book a “second life” after the hardcover. But this doesn’t work because the low hardcover sales numbers end up reflecting badly on the paperback and the paperback doesn’t get ordered.

So this was our dilemma — How do we break a new author? How do we get these books out there and into the hands of more readers? Because that’s what it’s all about. We couldn’t go with trade paper original because there’s an automatic implication within the book trade that this signifies a lower-quality book. But, bookstore buyers are actually much more inclined to order paperback originals, and readers like to see a paperback. So we started “Reader’s Choice” with last Spring’s catalog. And we shipped twice as many books.

Q: Are you the only publisher regularly putting out simultaneous hardcover and paperback editions of the same book?

David: I’ve heard that some university presses are starting to do the same thing. Other than that I am, as far as I know.

Q: What proportion of your list is published in dual format?

David: For the Autumn 2007 catalog, about seventy percent.

Q: That’s great. How does this work from a cost point of view — is there an added cost to simultaneous dual format publishing? Are there other drawbacks?

David: In terms of printing, there is not much difference in cost. And the hope is that the added cost is offset by the additional orders. Other drawbacks, well, the amount of paperwork to publish each book is doubled!

Q: Have you had any problems with authors who are unsure about this approach?

David: A few times I’ve had to explain that we’re doing this to gain more readers. Finally they get it. “Oh yeah. Readers.” But the authors are happy because they get a nice box of hardcovers, and we’re happy because the book gets out there.

Q: I get the feeling that you are the type of business-person who enjoys “refactoring” a business model. Are you innovative for innovation’s sake?

David: Actually it’s the opposite. I’m trying to be more and more traditional. I want to do whatever works to sell books. If I have to walk across the street naked to sell one of my author’s books, sure, I’ll do it. I just want these brilliant books to be a success.

You know, paperback publishing fuels the mass market, or it should. As for hardcover, well, hardcover readers are great readers, great proponents of books. We want to support both.

Q: Is there a particular upcoming title that you see as a probable success story for dual format publishing?

David: Sure — it’s called A Steep Approach to Garbadale and it’s by a great British author, Iain Banks. He’s very well liked in the UK, but people are just learning about him here. We already shipped four times the typical number on this new novel.

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Danielle Marshall is a Marketing and Promotions Specialist at Powells Books

Q: From a bookselling point of view, does the traditional hardcover-first/premium-priced publishing model serve the literary fiction marketplace well? Are you seeing significant movement towards trade paper original, or significant experimentation with book pricing, or other signs of paradigm change? Are there factors that play into book pricing that the reading public does not generally understand?

Danielle: I have often thought that the traditional paradigm is strictly for reviewers and a “class” problem. Paper originals tend to be seen as lower quality fiction, although we all know they are not. Consumers don’t think in those terms. I know that the profit margin on a cloth edition is higher and that explains some of it’s presence in the marketplace. But I have noticed that some publishers are trying to break new authors with a $19.95 price point.

I know that readers are thirsty for good books in paperback, but until books come out in that format, there are plenty of books to fill their void. We could all quit our jobs and read non-stop and never put a dent in the number of books that have been published in the last 25 years alone. I wish publishers would take the trade paper original risk more — Harper and Penguin are good at it — but the financial risks of trying to break out a novel with almost no review attention is daunting.

As far as literary fiction is concerned, I think we are doomed to the traditional model for the most part. At least until a bona-fide, well reviewed, major award winning, and bestselling “trade original” happens.

Which may be never, considering those books rarely get reviewed.

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Kelly Nagle is a Librarian with the Hillsborough County Library System in Tampa, Florida

Q: From a librarian’s point of view, is there a big difference between paperback and hardcover?

Kelly: Libraries love, love, LOVE hardcovers. Paperbacks fall apart so fast that it’s hardly worth buying them. In reordering classic fiction, it’s been depressing how many are only available in trade paperback. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is a recent example that we could not buy in hardcover. I’m buying the paperbacks, knowing that they aren’t going to last — it’s just to have something for people to check out.

As libraries, we usually get a discount on the books we order. For example, the 50th anniversary edition hardcover of On the Road retails for $24.95 and we would get it for about half price. This makes buying hardcovers much more affordable.

I don’t know if this is off-topic, but we’ve also started getting leased books. We get a certain amount of leased bestsellers and when their popularity dies down we return them. Saves money again.

Q: Would you care to share a personal opinion on the great hardcover vs. paperback debate?

Kelly: Well, I don’t buy all that many books – I count on the library to have them available when I want them.

If I were to buy a book, I’d rather have a hardcover. My Jane Austen book collection is all hardcover — they look better and last longer. I just buy them discounted through Amazon so the price isn’t so bad.

As for reading, I don’t really care except that those big heavy hardcover books hurt when they fall on your face when you doze off reading in bed. Trust me on this one. But seriously, I probably would prefer a hardcover if I were reading at home and a paperback if I was carrying it around with me.

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We’re nearly done with the first phase of this discussion (in which we hear exclusively from individuals directly involved with publication, sales or purchasing of books). In our next posting, we’ll pay special attention to the impact of book reviewing practices on these questions.

How do you feel about the discussion so far? Please let us know if you are finding this useful and whether or not any of these responses have swa
yed your own opinions on this subject.

10 Responses

  1. Book ReviewsToday’s entries
    Book Reviews

    Today’s entries into the discussion were, in my opinion, the best yet. Things are really getting interesting.

    Did I understand Danielle Marshall to say that trade original paperbacks rarely get reviewed? This brings up a question I’ve been wanting to ask.

    Do reviewers require hardcover books in order to “weed out” the number of books sent to them? To go a step further, would a reviewer even consider accepting a copied facsimile of a paperback book? Not a fax, I mean basically a Kinko copy of a book that has actually been published as a trade paperback. Some of us small-timers have a hard time paying for copies of our own books to mail to all the reviewers. Would the reviewers think I didn’t really write a book and was trying to trick them with some home-made booklet?

    What about digital books? Does anyone ever review them?

    It would seem that book reviewers, especially the bloggers, would understand more than anyone that words are words, be they on the internet, on a manuscript page, or in a book. When someone posts anything on their blog, they say it is “published” but if you want them to review a published book, you have to send the actual book. I expect this from my family and friends who don’t read anyway, but literary people should understand!

  2. Alternative marketing ideasI
    Alternative marketing ideas

    I was relieved to hear more flexible ideas on marketing first editions from David Poindexter… if possibilities were truly as limited as Simon Lipskar seemed to make them out to be, I’d find that pretty scary.

    I’m following this with interest, and looking forward to the next round. Please, someone tell me WHY reviewers so seldom take on anything but hc in literary fiction. Is this an area where the internet can make a difference?

  3. Glad you’re enjoying the
    Glad you’re enjoying the discussion, Bill!

    But I have to answer your question in as resounding and loud a voice as possible. No, don’t ever send a reviewer a Kinko’s copy of a book! This will not get good results. Not even close. When sending independently published books to review outlets, be as absolutely professional as possible. There is no wiggle room on this point at all, I assure you.

    And please know that, as a supporter of indie publishing, I wish my answer were different. But it’s not.

  4. Good workI think every
    Good work

    I think every response is interesting particularly that bookselling remains stagnant and that libraries factor so much into hardcover theory. Thanks for having the discussion!

  5. Quote: “Please, someone tell
    Quote: “Please, someone tell me WHY reviewers so seldom take on anything but hc in literary fiction. Is this an area where the internet can make a difference?”

    I think it can, has and will.

    I have access to lexis and can look up book reviews from newspapers or magazines but I will rather hit Amazon and see concise informative heart felt reviews from amateurs that tell me a lot more than I can usually get from the LA or New York Slimes book reviews.

    Not that I despise or even dislike these latter sunday inserts. Most books chosen for review are irrelevant to me but when they do have something of interest it is usually nice and high quality.

    These latter have limited space and want the most bang for the buck and the money and safety is in the big time publishing and hardcovers. They don’t know what is good otherwise — not that the hardcovers are necessarily any better but an editor can’t be blamed for choosing the wrong books if he or she goes the route of reviewing the season’s latest big releases from the majors and buzzed-about in the proper circles.

    On the internet are so many choices and noises that the issue is finding what is of interest to you and separating wheat from chaff. It’s more work than waiting for the professionals at some book review to do it for you.

    Remember when we used to need newspapers for classified ads.

  6. Agreed. I assume libraries
    Agreed. I assume libraries purchase their books, so the publishers know they will sell a large number of hardbacks to libraries if nothing else.

  7. MacAdam/CageMr. Poindexter’s

    Mr. Poindexter’s comments were very interesting. I had no idea that they were already releasing books in dual format, and 70% at that! I think they are very bold to be setting this precedent and I certainly hope it works for them and inspires other houses to do the same.

    Gotta give them props for taking one for the team and making it work. Shows everyone that it can be done.

    The only regret I have is that they rejected my brilliant novel a couple years back! (Or should I say, they rejected my query letter.)

  8. Dual-format publishing goes
    Dual-format publishing goes back (as far as I know) at least 50 years and has ties to what’s known as “the paperback revolution.” In the 80s, some houses tried to make triple-format publishing work (simultaneous hardcover, quality paperback, and mass market paperback editions), but it must not have been very profitable since it’s been abandoned. The industry had a lot of problems in the 80s due to inflation and rising paper costs, so much of what’s being proposed here has already been tried to see if there were better ways to maximize profits.

    Bantam, by the way, just launched a new imprint to try out simultaneous trade paperback and mass market paperback releases:


  9. Hardcovered booksI agree with
    Hardcovered books

    I agree with the Librarian. Many a night I wake up with a book on my face and my nose is hurting. now I know why.

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