Monday, July 24, 2006

Buy new

Just got my Mystery Writers of America June/July newsletter The 3rd Degree. James Grippando has a great article about the state of mass market publishing. It's "in the toilet" in case you didn't know.

James says: "The sole remaining mass market demographic is the poor slob who is stuck in the airport with absolutely nothing to read."

I've been ringing this alarm bell for years, but of course when you write mass market you tend to notice these things. One of my first blog posts questioned whether mass market fiction was dead.

I'm afraid it's too late, but I always see a half-empty glass. But I'm still afraid it's too late.

James suggests encouraging people to buy new, and educating readers. but I have to admit I have a hard time expecting someone to pay eight bucks for one of my paperbacks. i feel guilty about that.

If you're a member of MWA, check out the article.


Mark Pettus said...

You shouldn't charge 8 bucks for your paperbacks, Anne.

You should charge fifteen.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I'd say $25.00. They're worth it.

anne frasier said...

you guys! :D
i really appreciate that, but really....

paperbacks were first introduced because they were cheap. but they can't be produced cheaply anymore. is it time to retire that format?

anne frasier said...

mark, it's nice to see you again. I hope everything is okay in bluffland.

Jaye Wells said...

Anne, I don't know. I find a lot of trade books a rip off. I mean most have less page count that mass market but they cost almost twice as much. Plus you're seeing a lot of houses push new authors in trade. I think this might work against them because readers expect more if they're spending more. I don't know how genre affects this though.

anne frasier said...

jaye, thanks for that perspective. i don't read a lot of trade when i think about it, but i love the way they feel! i would certainly hate to see mass market paperbacks vanish completely. i have to think the size is in their favor.

Jaye Wells said...

True, trade does just feel cooler. I read some trade since a lot of romances and chick lit are coming out in that format. But again I guess it depends on the genres you're reading. Mass market does have size in their favor. I can't imagine the die hard readers who spend a lot of their budgets on books would ever stand for them going away.

anne frasier said...

i have to say i don't think airports are the last/only place having any success with mass market. i've feared they were, but i think MM still does well other places -- not so much at chains though from what i see. independents -- yes.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I think the problem that MM's are having has to do with simple math. The bookstores can move trades faster for more money. I think there's a perception that paperback means lower quality, which isn't necessarily the case. People can be made to see value when it isn't there. What they're buying is a perception of quality because the object is finely crafted, not necessarily the story encompassed by it. "It must be good, it's a hardcover."

And as the cost of making MMs goes up, or rather doesn't go down, the publishers are going to have to either modify their printing technology, or find something else to fill the niche that MMs serve.

Though I'm not going to buy a book based on its format, I like paperbacks over hardcovers because they're convenient. I don't think that MMs are going to go away. I think the printing technologies used for them may shift. I think we're going to see a lot more POD over the next 10 years. It's simply less expensive to store files digitally, rather than have to print a bunch of books and ship them, only to have the majority of them come back to be pulped.

But that's going to require a shift in the business models of a lot of maor publishers, which isn't going to happen until B&N and WalMart forces them to.

On top of that there's a stigma attached to POD as it shows up so often in self publishing. It can also screws with rights. How can you buy a book's rights back when it never technically goes out of print? Though, from what I understand, provisions for that are showing up more and more in contracts these days, it's still a gray area, since we're still in between what we had and where we're going.

IMHO, of course. ;-)

anne frasier said...

stephen, you are so right about perception. that's probably one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to MM.

i don't like to read hardcovers at all. they are too big and heavy. I like to be able to hold a book in one hand -- something i find impossible to do with a hardcover.

i wonder if there's more of a stigma to paperbacks now than there used to be. like you said, that perception of quality. or lack of quality. they aren't reviewed many places. people really don't care to have them signed because they don't have the durability of a hardcover.

Kelly Parra said...

I'm a poor slob. =)

Really, I don't know much about the price of production of books but I love MMs. I'd choose one over a HB and Trade any day. Yes, the price is better. The size is better. They mold to my hands. I tend really bend my books so that they are good and read even though I cherish them.

I wish they didn't just centralize HBs and Trade right in front of the book stores. They look nice and pretty, but they aren't what I prefer.

But I'm writing this as a reader, the author side of me knows it's likely awesome for an author to be pubbed in HB. =D

anne frasier said...

i think people would really miss MM if it vanished.

when hush came out in 2002 paperbacks were more prominently displayed. i've seen a real shift and a push to the back of the store in just the past couple of years.

Bailey Stewart said...

I don't know - we get an awfully lot of them in the store - and we spend a lot of money every week buying them from our customers (yeah, I work in one of those dreaded used book stores) - in fact, we are sometimes overwhelmed with them - but I just realized, not a lot in the mysteries, hmmmmm.

And my local Borders still has a lot of the new MM in the front. The only thing in front of them in the actual shelves are the bargain books. But you walk in and you are greeted with a couple of tables of MM.

anne frasier said...

bailey, you are SO RIGHT about borders. They do a fantastic job of displaying and ordering MM. Barnes and Noble not so much. I always tend to forget about Borders because we don't have that many around here. But I've always been impressed with how they display the MM. they also seem to welcome drive-by signings. not the case with Barnes and Nobles in my experience.

bekbek said...

Little-known factoid: When I first entered the working world, I worked at a bookstore. Almost stayed, too. I was offered my own store, even. Too cool.

The thing that sticks in my head about MM paperbacks (what I think of as "pocketbooks," but Luther tells me that's a brand name) is the returns process. The bookstore gets 40% off the list price when ordering. And then when the book hasn't sold and you finally pull the dusty thing off the shelves, you rip the cover off and send it back. The book goes into the garbage.

We had to plot a whole secret campaign to send the ripped books to recycling. You can't give them away or sell them, because then the author (aka, in actual fact, the publisher) doesn't get any money. It's stealing.

And if that whole thing isn't uplifting, I don't know what is. Oh yeah:

MM books are for readers. They're not for people who are impressing others by reading. They're not for people who like to look at pictures. I fear we're seeing the decline of readers.

That said... I don't know. It's hard for me to completely believe it. The format is just so convenient and so comfortable in the hands. Remember the Beatrix Potter books? Why were they so cool? Because they fit in kids' hands.

I'm thinking a revolution might be coming. Maybe I should go back to the book business.

I always wanted to be a Buyer. ;-)

anne frasier said...

bekbek: i think you hit on something when you said MMs are for readers. i do think there's a kind of snobbery that sometimes goes along with the trade paperbacks. a look what i'm reading kind of thing.

i think most stripped books are now recycled. i visited a pulping factory in Kansas City several years ago. VERY cool. A massive place -- all they did was strip MMs and pulp them all day long. the books moved on conveyor belts. women manually stripped the covers, then sent the book on to the shredder. plastic bags as big as semi trailers hung from the ceiling. I remember this one female cover stripper who said she loved her beautiful covers. and she kept stroking it while she told me this.

Anonymous said...

I remember many years ago when "experts" were saying that the sitcom was in the toilet and nearly dead. That it would never be what it was before. Then Bill Cosby came along and proved them all wrong, ushering in a whole new golden era of sitcoms.

Then it was said that the hour long episodic was dead and within a few years they were thriving.

ANY marketplace works in cycles. Maybe mass market is in the toilet right now -- although I have a hard time believing it -- but it will swing around again. That's just the nature of things. In the meantime, a bunch of writers who probably shouldn't be publishing anyway will disappear and some new kids will rise up to the challenge.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

That last anonymous is me, by the way. I don't know why that happened.

Bill Cameron said...

Maybe I'm the exception, but I find MMPBs to be a pain to read. I buy them when I am either broke or have no other choice, but I prefer the size of TPBs or HBs. Trade Paperback ends up often being my drug of choice, if I can get it.

The problem with MMPBs is multifold. Either the type is too small, or it crowds the gutter, or the book is too thick, or all of the above. Half the time I half to crack the spine to be able to read to the gutter comfortably, which means half the time the book starts to fall apart before I'm done reading it. The paper is usually duller and darker than hardbacks or trade paperbacks, which means light is more of an issue when I read. I actually find MMPBs to be rather anti-reader, at least if you define a reader as me. (Ahem. hehe.)

A hardback has the problem of being really expensive and heavy, but usually feels more comfortable to read because the type is almost always a good size and the page margins generous. Trade paperback is a nice compromise -- good readable size without breaking the bank. I can read a trade paperback for hours at a time. A mass market is likely to get set aside more quickly because it will probably make me tired more quickly.

anne frasier said...

rob, i hope you're right about the cycles. there are just so many things impacting MMs. I think that fact alone makes it a tough fix.

bill, i wonder if most of those problems have been addressed. i remember when print got small, lines were close together, and text ran into the gutter. this was all in an attempt to keep the price down. didn't work because people quit reading them. i haven't noticed those problems any longer, which is why prices have gone up so quickly and drastically. (yellow paper, though) i do think price is the biggest issue. are people going to pay 8 (or will it be 9 soon?) for a paperback when they can get a trade for 9 - 16?

Bill Cameron said...

Interesting question. It could be that I got trained away from MM during the darker, denser days and haven't recovered. Still, I do still buy MMs, especially if I can't get or afford TB or HB.

Just did a quick review of four MMPBs that happen to be within arm's reach here on my desk.

O' Artful Death by Sarah Stewart Taylor, first MMPB edition July 04. Type size, not bad. Leading is dense, and the gutter is crowded. Paper color is pretty decent for a MM. I loved the book.

Blood Ties Lori G. Armstrong. No printing history aside from "Published 2005 by Medallion Press, Inc." Typesize and leading are pretty good, and gutter is not bad. There was slop in the printing though, so some pages crowd the center more than others. Also, this book started to fall apart even though I didn't have to crack the spine to read to the gutter. Sad. Paper is definitely dull and yellow. All that said, I loved the book!

Before I Wake by Anne Frasier, May 2005 PB first printing. (No, I am not sucking up -- it really was in the stack here on the end of my desk!) Type size is not too bad, but leading is a touch dense. Gutter is not too crowded, though I did crack the spine. That said, the glue seems to be pretty good. The binding was soft so the cracking only put a faint line on the spine. Paper color is good, probably the best of the lot. And I should probably mention that I loved the book. (But I am NOT sucking up!)

Killing Floor by Lee Child, 34th printing (my God, which limb do I have to give up for that) of the 1998 original PB edition. This one has the trifecta in terms of Bill's Whiny MMPB Complaints: small type, crowded gutter, thick. Also dense leading and dull grey paper. Spine definitely cracked. Perhaps it's a layout from the time you mention, Anne, when they were trying to keep prices down by densifying the layout and using less paper. Not sure when the 34th printing happened, but I'm guessing the layout is 8 years old. (I did love the book though.)

Anyway, that's my quick informal survey. No clue if it means anything. Does prove that the awkwardness I find in reading MMPBs doesn't stop me from loving great books, and obviously I do buy them even if I'd prefer a larger edition.

Okay, I'll be quiet now!

anne frasier said...

wow, bill! :)
that really is an interesting review. especially interesting that the 1998 book has all of the problems.

glad to hear you enjoyed before i wake. :) many people didn't care for that book, but the ones who liked it seemed to like it a lot.
the cover texture and paper were both pretty high quality for a paperback. i was never crazy about the image or title. i call them soft. not sure if there is a real term for it, but i feel it's bad marketing to put a soft title and soft cover together if the book is a thriller.

if cost weren't an issue, this is how i would personally rate the formats:

1 -- trade paperback
2-- regular paperback
3-- hardcover

i dislike hardcovers to the extreme.

Bill Cameron said...

My wife really dislikes hardcovers too. For our weekend in the woods she said, "Bring me something good to read." I grabbed a couple of hardbacks and a trade I thought she'd like. She read the trade first, and then started on one of the hardbacks. Several times since she started it she's complained about how heavy it is and how hard it is to prop up when she's reading in bed.

Me? I like the heft of a hardback, though not necessarily its weight on my wallet. If cost were no object, I would probably go:

1 -- hardcover
2 -- trade
3 -- mass market

anne frasier said...

bill, i totally agree with your wife. that's my problem too. i can't comfortably read a hardcover in bed. it's impossible. our hands are smaller, and our grip isn't as strong. i was recently complaining about that to a guy, so he had to grab a hardcover and heft it above his head. look at me!! i'm so strong! i can lift this hardcover above my head!


Bill Cameron said...

One in each hand here! Bwa ha ha!

I'll you one thing, even a mighty hardcover powerlifter starts to second guess his choice when he wants to carry two or three with him in his carry-on bag.

anne frasier said...


Bailey Stewart said...

I only buy hardcover if it's a book I want to keep - they last longer. Otherwise, my small hands handle a MM much better.

And I don't have any problems reading the print. Hmmmm.