Re: RARA-AVIS: Short and cheap

From: Patrick King (
Date: 14 Oct 2007

In fairness, though, Charles, how do you market Hard Case Crimes? I live in northern Massachusetts and buy all my Hard Case books through Amazon. They're simply not available in stores. I've never seen them in a book store in this neck of the woods. If you put them in wire, rotating racks in stores where comics and magazines are sold, in bus stations and airports, etc; if you put them around like the old Dell Paperbacks, and Gold Medal, and Ace, and Pyramid, you'd sell a lot more copies. Right now, you have no impulse market, at least where I live. Maybe they're all over New York City, but in the burbs, if you don't already know about Hard Case Crime, you're not likely to learn about these books.

Patrick King
--- hardcasecrime <> wrote:

> > Patrick King said: "I'd love to see a
> > return to a $2.00 paperback book. Don't
> > tell me no one can make money doing
> > that."
> Sorry, Patrick, one can make money doing
> that.
> I agree wholeheartedly with all the posters who
> lamented that books
> these days are longer than they need to be -- as
> I've told countless
> authors whose over-written books I've rejected,
> there are stories you
> can tell at 50,000 words that you just can't tell at
> twice the
> length. Hard Case Crime books almost all run
> between 208 and 256
> pages, with fairly large type (we could bring them
> in at 160-192
> pages if we were willing to use the tiny type they
> used in the old
> days, but readers have begged us to spare their
> aging eyes). I'd
> almost always rather read a 35,000 word book than an
> 80,000 word
> book. There are exceptions, of course, but I am a
> big believer in
> the shorter-is-better philosophy.
> I'm also a big believer in the cheaper-is-better
> philosophy, and
> looked seriously into whether we could price our
> books at $2-3 -- but
> for a variety of reasons (some better, some worse),
> it just couldn't
> be done.
> To start with, even if you assume there's no
> discounting (and people
> sometimes do pay full cover price for mass-market
> paperbacks, or
> something very close to it), you have to take into
> account that the
> cover price gets split (roughly) in half -- half
> goes to the
> publisher and half to the bookseller. If your book
> sells for $2,
> that's just $1 for each of them. On the bookseller
> side, that $1 has
> to pay for the use of a piece of precious shelf
> space for a certain
> amount of time. You might not think of a paperback
> book taking up
> all that much space, but it does take up some, and a
> whole section of
> paperback books takes up as much space as a section
> of any other sort
> of goods -- razors, cold medications, cans of soup,
> whatever. The
> retailer has to pay a certain amount of rent each
> month for those
> square feet, he has to pay a certain hourly rate to
> his staff each
> month to keep those square feet stocked, and if a
> shelf of paperback
> books is generating just $1 apiece each time one
> sells, the retailer
> has to decide a) whether that's enough money to
> cover his rent and
> staff costs, and b) unless he's selling books
> because he's got a
> consuming passion for books, whether he could have
> made more than
> that $1 by stocking the same space with some other
> product. Sadly,
> the answer to (a) is generally no, except in some
> very inexpensive
> parts of the country, and the answer to (b) is
> almost always yes.
> That wouldn't be the case if books were more popular
> and just flew
> off the shelves in huge numbers, and you could argue
> that maybe they
> would if instead of $7-10 they cost $2 -- but
> honestly I don't think
> anyone believes this. Publishers have experimented
> over the past few
> years with selling some titles for $3.95, and the
> difference in the
> number sold was not enormous. Penguin even did a
> line of skinny $1
> books, as I recall, and they were a huge dud. Cover
> prices being
> high may be the reason some readers buy only 1
> book/month instead of
> 2 or 3 or 4, but that's not the reason that people
> who don't buy
> books at all and aren't in the habit of reading for
> pleasure don't
> buy books. At the margin, the appearance of a $2
> book might tempt a
> few people who are right on the borderline to try a
> book when they
> might otherwise not, but it wouldn't turn a
> generation of non-readers
> into readers any more than the existence of iTunes
> selling music mp3s
> for 99 cents apiece (a very nice, low price) has
> made me go out and
> buy an iPod. I just have no interest. They could
> drop the price
> from 99 cents to 20 cents, and I'd still have no
> interest.
> (Meanwhile, the people who do have an interest might
> buy *somewhat*
> more if they did that, but not the 5 times more
> they'd need to in
> order to justify the price cut.)
> That's from the retailer's point of view, a topic
> about which I know
> a little less, since I'm not (currently) a retailer;
> now let's look
> at it from the publisher's point of view, about
> which I know more.
> To begin with, you have to be prepared to print two
> copies of each
> book for every copy you sell. Often more than half
> the copies you
> print come back as returns (or, in the case of mass
> market
> paperbacks, get destroyed in lieu of being
> returned), sometimes less
> than half do; using 50% for modeling purposes is
> actually on the
> optimistic side, but what the heck, let's do it.
> This means that
> whatever it costs to print a book (depends on paper
> quality, fancy
> cover treatments, etc.), you have to double that
> number and take it
> off the top. Some fat, fancy paperbacks cost almost
> a dollar to
> print; some skinnier, cheaper ones cost 35-50 cents.
> If your
> paperback were printed in enormous volume you might
> be able to get it
> down to an even lower price, but unless you're
> publishing Dan Brown
> you're not going to be printing millions of copies.
> The kind of
> mystery novels we love might sell 5,000 copies or
> 15,000 or maybe
> even 50,000, but not 500,000 and definitely not
> millions. Back in
> the Gold Medal days, you could reliably sell 100,000
> copies of any
> book you printed -- but those days are long gone
> (and cutting the
> price to $2 wouldn't make them return; radio's still
> free, after all,
> and you don't see people listening to radio dramas
> the way they used
> to; life moves on, and entertainment tastes change).
> Let's be generous and say you print your skinny book
> for 25 cents and
> sell one for every two you print (both
> unrealistically optimistic
> numbers, incidentally). That's 50 cents of cost
> that comes off the
> top of your $1 share of the $2 cover price. Which
> leaves you with
> just the other 50 cents to cover the amount of money
> you paid to the
> author, the cover painter, the copyeditor, the
> typesetter, the
> proofreader, the accountant who produces your
> royalty statements, the
> salesforce that gets your book into stores, etc.;
> and of course you
> have to pay your own rent and electricity and
> insurance bills and
> photocopier rental and phone bills, etc. But even
> ignoring the
> latter sorts of overhead, consider that if you sell
> 5,000 copies,
> this model says you only have $2,500, total, to
> cover your costs;
> even if you sell 50,000 copies (which you rarely
> will), you only have
> $25,000. The up-front costs of getting a book out
> the door will vary
> from publisher to publisher (some tiny houses pay
> the author nothing
> up front, some use all-type covers to avoid paying
> an artist) -- but
> I can tell you that Hard Case Crime is about as tiny
> and
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