Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Can Trade Paperbacks Save Literary Fiction?

Over the weekend, I answered some email questions from Levi Asher of Literary Kicks for a series he's running about how literary fiction should be published and priced, specifically the debate over whether hardcovers are still preferable to trade paperback originals. So far, there have been some good arguments on both sides of the question, and some bracing reality—like the observation from literary agent Simon Lipskar that "readers want books cheaper, and publishers want to make the most money possible...[and] the fact that you have to wait a year to buy a book you want to read because publishers first release in a format that you personally find too expensive and less portable is irrelevant to them."

Lipskar also proposes that while consumers might like trade paperback originals, they don't offer as hefty a profit margin for publishers as hardcovers do, and since TPOs aren't likely to spur a bookbuying revolution, abandoning hardcovers just isn't an attractive business model.

At the same time, other participants suggest that TPOs are a viable model for building a readership for new authors, enabling wider experimentation among consumers. By the time I got invited into the mix, the theme had shifted away from the traditional publishing model, where hardcovers seed the market for the eventual paperback, to the idea of simultaneous dual-format publishing... about which, as you'll see eventually, I'm somewhat skeptical. But it's the whole conversation that deserves your attention; frankly, I'm jealous that I didn't come up with the idea before Levi did.

Author image from the Wall Street Journal. If you use the link in the previous para you will see the significance of her pic being shown.

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