Have you stepped into a UK bookshop lately? Suddenly there seems to be an upsurge of trade paperbacks: you know, those large, weighty tomes the size of hardbacks. In fact, they are hardbacks disguised as paperbacks. And guess what. They cost a lot more than conventional paperbacks. You get larger print for your money, and more paper - if a heavy wad of the stuff is what you want - but what you don't get is something light and easy to carry around and read - like a Kindle, say. (Oh, and Kindle can do large print as well!)
Yes, I think publishers have finally lost the plot. I imagine this is their desperate response to the trend towards the eBook reader. But if people want cheap and light reading material, as they get with an eBook reader, why would trade paperbacks be the answer to pull them back to print publications? I can see that the publisher expects to get a bigger profit because of the higher price, and there is no work to do if the hardback has already been published: just slap on different covers. But do readers want to pay a higher price and clog up more of their bookshelf? So, please, think on. I prefer paperbacks to Kindles, I like to see more than a paragraph at a time, I like the smell and feel of a book, I like books on my bookshelf, but I HATE holding heavy ones. I avoided hardbacks because of this (and price), and I shall avoid trade paperbacks for the same reason. And if that trend continues, it might well push me over the edge to Kindle!
Publishers got themselves into this pickle when they went for quick profits - at the cost of not developing new authors to take them into the future. Now they are reaping a lean harvest as a return. We are now at another ground-breaking point, so might I now humbly suggest that publishers forget trying to re-invent print and embrace the eBook while establishing a sensible price that becomes standard. They do not, after all, have Tesco twisting their arm in this arena. Self-publishing authors are forced to charge peanuts for eBooks, but something significantly above the £1/$1 mark, yet below the paperback mark, would be ideal as a norm. It might allow self-publishers to charge something similar instead of working for scraps. And given the low production costs for eBooks compared with print, please can publishers then be fair with authors and give they a high royalty? And a budget towards promotion, too? After all, promotion is all the publisher can tempt the author with when the can quite easily publish an eBook themselves.
The people who reap rewards with eBooks do so through bulk sales. Hear that, publishers? BULK SALES? Go for that - with a mid-price - and everyone can win: authors, publishers and readers.
So far as print is concerned, the sale-or-return model that publishers have used for generations was never a good one, and that should now be trashed - instead of returned books. Offer retailers more profit margin as compensation for no returns, and offer authors a higher royalty when you don't have to build in the budget for recycling returned books to make motorways.
Now, despite all this electronic stuff, we must not see the death of the printed book. And I am sure we will not. But we must embrace the electronic word as well. Now is the time to establish some common sense when it comes to pricing and royalties and in the way forward in both print and eBook. The trouble is, common sense is not all that common when it comes to breaking a mould.