Taking That First Step Toward Success

June 22nd, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Given our natural modesty, we will not suggest that our brilliant plans to revamp the publishing business are seeping into the thoughts of industry professionals. We will suggest that, however they came to the fountain, it’s about time. Doug Seibold of Agate describes his conversion from a strictly-hardback kind of guy to a more flexible trade paperback original kind of guy.

Seibold helpfully details the fantasy — right down to the fact that hardbacks bring in greater bucks (while also carrying greater risks, many of which negate the aforementioned bigger bucks) — before facing reality:

And so the hardback format persists, while the business around it has changed. Where once there were separate hardback and paperback houses, with separate specialties and skills, most have been rolled up into one of the five corporate behemoths (significantly diminishing the paperback-rights marketplace in the process). The corporate publishers, of course, have deep-enough pockets that they can afford to throw a bunch of them out there and see if they make it. They can endure the punishingly high returns (even if their authors’ careers can’t) that come with rolling the dice this way.

One thing he doesn’t seem to consider in much detail is the impact on the consumer, though he addresses the point. Hardbacks are, if we may say it, expensive. Especially if you are a voracious reader. And, really, who isn’t? As prices creep up toward $30, it’s hard to convince readers to take a chance on new authors. And given the economics, it’s not that easy to convince booksellers, either. Seibold sees the light:

Really, think about it: What could be more backward than trying to introduce new or unfamiliar authors in the costlier hardback format? What might have made sense in an earlier era should properly be flipped. That’s what happened with Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies—after earning the Pulitzer, no less, as a TPO, it became a hardback.

Will the publishing industry suddenly get religion on this matter? No, we can promise you that will be a long time coming. Old habits die hard and all that, and authors see far too much romance in their hardbacks to let the dream die easily. But at least minds are opening. We’d say our work here is done, but, well, it isn’t. Yet.

    Trade Paperback Originals: TPO, or Not TPO, Or How I Drank the Kool-Aid and Learned to Love a New Format

File Under: Publishers and Editors