It's a crime! (Or a mystery…)

Picador is brave in recognising the demise of the hardback book?

An interesting article from Nicholas Clee in The Guardian Books Blog today.  He starts by saying:

"It seems hasty to announce the imminent death of the hardback literary novel on the evidence of one experimental policy by one London publisher. But Picador’s decision to bring out most of its new fiction in paperback editions, accompanied by only a small number of "collectors’" hardbacks, is a symptom of the dire health of what has been a surprisingly persistent format. While we may think of the hardback, usually appearing some 12 months before the edition that most people consider affordable, as elitist and uncommercial, there are nevertheless reasons to worry about its passing."

For the hardback, Clee asserts:

"At the same time, Picador’s novels will also appear in limited hardback print runs, produced for the people who prefer to acquire books with cloth covers, boards, endpapers and so on, and who don’t mind paying for those luxuries."

Well, thank God for that.  But neither do I mind arguing back when it comes to the small population’s love of books and the buyer’s point of view.  There is a small population out there that is neither elitist nor one to see its hardback purchases as "luxuries".  Since the Net Book Agreement trickled down the gutters and into the drains, new (hardback) book prices have become rather more attractive to the customer.  (Perhaps the publishers sold themselves out here?)  There are more than a few who have not waited for the potentially easily-grubby mass market paperback of their favoured authors; they want a hardback.    And what would you choose to have signed by the author?  Something that resembles a flayed with vigour Andrex toilet roll or something you can preserve with the honour and respect it deserves?

Curiously, Clee let one cat out of the bag with this comment:

"Until now, a small market has just about upheld the other arguments for literary fiction in hardback. But that market has almost reached vanishing point. The paucity of sales of novels even by acclaimed authors was an awkward book industry secret until this summer, when it was broadcast that eight of the novels on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize had sold fewer than 1,000 copies."

Note that it’s "literary fiction" of which he speaks, which adds another dimension to this argument.  I agree with him for the literary genre, but beg to differ on crime & thriller fiction.  He added:

"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."

Some of us already realise that hardback runs are so severely limited.  Some of us devour that fact and pursue our purchases to match that thought.  I have one crime fiction bibliophile friend who texts me regularly.  One of our recent conversations had me listening to – we’re text and talk in person – something along the lines of "Christ, you didn’t buy the trade paperback did you?  There’s a hardback out there!" 

But while I can understand a reaction to less sales on the part of the publisher, isn’t this an example of actually creating elitism going forward?  Those that can, will seek out the ever more scarce hardback and ensure it’s signed, creating an ever more elitist market.  The publishers will not gain a penny, as the main market will be second hand sales; unless they bump up the price on a new release in hardback, creating even more of an elitist market. £100 anyone?

It’s both a self-fulfilling prophecy and double-edged sword as far I can see.

"Et tu, Brute!"  See the horizon and weep; if it’s your credit/debit card on the line.

4 comments on “Picador is brave in recognising the demise of the hardback book?

  1. Chris
    November 13, 2007

    Gasp of horror. Surely not…? Having already spotted a Michael Joseph author this month that went straight to paperback, and a Bantam author whose next book will do the same, how do publishers intend to promote limited hardback runs, when they do exist? As for Trade Paperback, I can’t stand them (although I may amend that view as my eyes move further and further away from small print in standard paperbacks!)
    I agree, with the end of the NBA a few years ago, hardbacks are normally affordable. AND – I fully understand that only those titles forecast to sell in thousands may be discounted, but any bulk savings I make go towards the purchase of books by less well-known authors who don’t receive the same financial leg-up with price promotions.

  2. Pauline Rowson
    November 14, 2007

    Hardbacks are still bought by the libraries both in the UK and the States, particularly in crime and thriller fiction, although UK library budgets are stretched to the limit, so this might not be the case for much longer. I noticed you have the good library blog by Tim Coates on your blog. Isn’t he saying good-bye to all that. I’ll check it out but I’ve come up with a whiz bang idea to help libary funding which I’ve put on my blog, but too late for Tim now. Maybe Tesco will run with it! To get back to hardbacks. I was delighted to see my latest crime novel in hardback in September and to sign it for those readers who treasure such things. I too treaure my hardbacks from my favourite crime writers. Glad to have discovered your blog. I’ll put a link on mine to yours.

  3. crimeficreader
    November 14, 2007

    Indeed, I think you may find you amend your views on the trade paperback in the future. Give it two years max! (Says she who now needs the reading glasses every time!) But seriously, as a shadow of the hardback’s constitution and with less HBs to be printed, is it not possible that the trade paperback may be the next to diminish in stature? It’s merely convenient & economical printing for now, surely?
    Personally, I hate the thought that we may find it’s all mass market PBs in the future. Some are unreadable, literally and physically. Publishers need to be aware that there’s a group of customers that don’t need the library large print format, they need something in between.

  4. crimeficreader
    November 14, 2007

    Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.
    Yes, Tim Coates has given up on his passionate cause for now and in the form of a blog campaign. The last thing I read, it was rumoured that he was about to take a new role in the publishing trade. His own blog closing post finished with this comment “I am not stopping my attempt to revive the UK public library service– I’m just going to climb the mountain again from a different side. (or bomb it from a different direction)”. Perhaps whatever is afoot in terms of new role, he’ll have the chance to do as he says.
    I think libraries have had more money for value in taking on hardbacks as they are more hardy for continued reads; that said, quality of production in recent years has led to less of a benefit here. A hardback is soon tarnished through handling, these days.
    Like you, I treasure my hardbacks from my favoured authors, especially when signed. It makes the novel an event to cherish as opposed to a story in passing that in physical form becomes that well-flayed toilet roll. Good stories deserve longevity in my book and in my personal library. It will be interesting to see how the policy on price develops for this. Are the limited edition HBs about to become priced so that they are only for those with money to burn? Subsequently to be seen squeezed for every last penny on eBay by those fortunate enough to have got their hands on a limited edition? I hope not.
    We live in times of change. You only have to be 40+ to have difficulty recognising the world we now live in, in the UK. If my book buying habits are now taken into another realm, I might just be horrified!

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This entry was posted on November 12, 2007 by in Book News.
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