Thursday, November 15, 2007

Soft Sell?

Could it be that hardback fiction has had its day?

The way things usually happen is that a hardback copy of a new work of fiction generally appears a year or so before the novel goes into a much cheaper paperback edition.

Now one London publisher, Picador, has decided to bring out most of its fiction in "B format" (i.e. larger sized, sometimes referred to as "trade") paperback editions, accompanied by only a small number of collectors' copies (for the booksnobs among us!) in hardback in a move intended to help authors get straight to their readers.

Which all seems logical, doesn't it?

Nicholas Clee on the Guardian blog asks (and answers) the burning question:
So why have publishers persisted for so long in bringing out hardback novels, pushing for reviews and interviews with the authors, and waiting until everyone has forgotten about the publicity before issuing the affordable editions? Until 20 years ago, libraries and book clubs provided one reason, because they ordered hardbacks in decent quantities; but these quantities have dwindled to negligibility. Another reason was that literary editors thought that only hardbacks deserved reviews; there is better coverage for paperbacks on the books pages now, although it could improve further. The third was that authors felt hardback editions gave them prestige. Picador may find that this attitude endures.
That the market for literary fiction seems to have fallen to an all time low this year (remember the low sales figures reported for the Booker shortlisted titles?) is obviously a main factor in this decision. But there are, according to Clee, very great dangers of skipping straight to paperback publication:
Publishers of hardbacks can print 1,500 copies, hope for reviews and - for a lucky few - awards. The authors' careers build from there. If they dispense with hardbacks, they will have to put out larger print runs of paperbacks to justify publication; and they will find that the market is often resistant to new fiction, at any price. ... As a result, they will only take on authors whom they believe can sell the paperback print runs - a surefire recipe for conservative commissioning. The gap between the McEwans and the rest will grow. A policy that appears at first glance to be anti-elitist may turn out to have just the opposite effect.
More about book format in this piece by Honor Wilson-Fletcher from the Guardian's archives .


Alex Tang said...

hi, Nicholas Clee is stop on in his comments. There is a certain prestege associated with a HB as compared to a softcover. This is unlikely to go away soon.

However the question of economics will not go way. HB are expensive! I usually buy HB and when I find that the novel is of poor quality, I feel very disappointed and cheated.

Alex Tang said...

'spot on' sorry...did not have my coffee yet.

Anonymous said...

a book is not a book unless it's a hardcover book!

i want to cry now!

if they make hardbacks in limited quantities, then that's gonna raise their prices even more!



Amir said...

You will be happy to know that the memoirs of a certain MP will soon be released in hardcover, and the cover makes her look like a cross between 'the Mistress of Spices' and Cybil Shepherd in 'Moonlighting'! Saw the layout yesterday. I shall say no more...

jawakistani said...

Thought you might wanna know when I'm popping. We've chosen a date it would be Nov 24. Will sms latest update!

Pray for me...

bibliobibuli said...

jawakistani - excited for you and praying for you and the long awaited one. let me know soon as you pop.

amir - sounds beautiful!

alex - yes i've also felt deeply disappointed if i haven't enjoyed a hardback

viz - wonder if US publishers will go in this direction too?