Tuesday, April 21, 2009

eBook and Book Talk!

Earth Day is tomorrow meaning much of the media is spending this week focusing on green issues and I thought I'd take a moment to address something that falls in this arena and seriously bothers me about the book business.

Print runs.

Basically, they're ugly number wise and yet every author hopes they sell through their first and more than a second printing is needed. So let me give you a couple of numbers and see what you think.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling had 500 for the first run, 300 went to libraries. Ten years later, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows had 12 million. Interesting and shows what a great success the series was and still is. [Side note: Did you know they were published in the UK with one set of covers for children and another for adults? They were and the US should pay attention to this way of encouraging people to read outside their comfort zone.] Anyway, what strikes me as odd is that the Harry Potter series still isn't officially in ebook, but Lord of the Rings now is.

Why not?

Yesterday came news of the latest big print run and it belongs to Dan Brown, author of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, amongst others. He has a new Robert Langdon book, The Lost Symbol, coming out this September and it's going to have an initial run of 5 million. Hmmm, the series is a success bookwise and in movie theaters, but there are two things that bother me about the size of this run. One, will people buy even though so much time has passed since he released a book [2003], and two, will people not buy because of the ugly copyright lawsuit filed against him? Brown won, but after watching last night’s 60 Minutes, will be proven innocent be enough for the public?

Okay, those are big selling books, so let's bring it down a bit. A mid-list author's mass market paperback will have an average around 50k for a print run and rarely come close to selling through. What isn't sold are left to be stripped [pulling the cover off and throwing out the inside] - that's right, thrown out. This doesn't happen to a couple hundred or a thousand, but ten's of thousands. On the other side, small publishing houses that use the POD technology have much smaller runs, reprinting at a moments notice, and escape the necessity of stripping, wasting raw materials.

The book business has its ugly secrets, but a day without books would be seriously bad. Me? I think it’s time for a massive and well thought out revamping of publishing as a whole. In regards to print runs, maybe if houses moved away from their traditional selling plan of hardback for a year and then some form of paperback for the remainder of the contract [and with only a select few going into ebooks]. Here's an idea, smaller print runs and simultaneous print/ebook releases. This would make everyone happy: the print and ebook readers each have their format of choice, authors make money, publishing houses supply books and make money, and environmentalists can calm down about senseless waste - all good.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm totally with you on this one, babe. Not to mention more reasonable prices for an e-book!

Personally, I'd sooner take a smaller print run -- and the bragging rights that I went back to press. It's MUCH better than being told you didn't sell enough to justify putting out your next book!

Tilly Greene said...

I love small print runs - getting the news that it's in reprint is fabulous! Right up there with declining advances so my royalty checks are even chunkier :-)